The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has called on the government to target net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with a raft of ambitious new policies.
According to the CCC report, the goal can be reached using existing technologies and within acceptable economic costs outlined in the Climate Change Act of 2008. However, significant changes to the energy system, land use and people’s lifestyles will be required. Low-carbon electricity generation will need to increase four-fold, new combustion vehicles should not be available beyond 2035, large amounts of trees must be planted, and emerging technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen energy will need to be implemented.
For net zero emissions to be reached by the middle of the century, the government must act immediately to introduce these policies and more, the report claims. The CCC estimates that the cost of the transition will be 1-2 per cent of GDP per annum until 2050, comparable to the figure the UK spends on defence each year. That cost should be shared fairly by business and consumers, and the public will need to be engaged in order for the ambitious policies to be successful.
“We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response,” said Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC. “The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part – we explain how in our new report – but it can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted. The government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.”
The CCC says that achieving net zero by 2050 would be in line with the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement of 2015, which aims to keep man-made global temperature increases at least below 2°C and ideally below 1.5°C. Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels.
The effects of this warming are becoming increasingly manifest, from extreme weather events to the diminishing polar ice caps. While the CCC’s report has been broadly welcomed by the scientific community, some academics have criticised it for not going far enough, particularly in consideration of the UK’s historical emissions and overall contribution to climate change.
“It is welcome news that the Climate Change Committee has recommended a target date for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Dr Phil Williamson, Honorary Reader at the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences.
“Yet it is also disappointing that 2050 is no earlier than the global date necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. The UK’s current share of global emissions may be relatively small, at around 1 per cent; however, we are in the top five nations with regard to historical responsibilities for creating the climate change problem, and we have now outsourced much of our carbon-intensive manufacturing to other countries.
“Is this really the ‘highest possible ambition’, as stated in the report? More rapid progress would increase costs in some sectors, yet it would also provide additional economic opportunities; for example, in developing technologies for greenhouse gas removal.”