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Report: UK can be more ambitious on climate change

Words: Laura Edgar
Targeting climate change / Shutterstock_53114833

The foundations are in place throughout the UK to deliver a net zero economy – but the UK can be more ambitious by targeting a reduction of its greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming responds to a request from the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets.

It says that the UK should “vigorously pursue” a target of reducing its greenhouse gas to ‘net-zero’ by 2050, relative to 1990, ending the UK's contribution to global warming within 30 years. The target should cover all sectors of the economy, including international aviation and shipping.

The committee acknowledges that the foundations and policies required to deliver this are already active or in development, but says that it can only be delivered if policy is strengthened across all levels and departments of government. “This will require strong leadership at the heart of government,” the report states.

Policies must be designed with businesses and consumers in mind, and need to be “stable, long-term and investable”. The public must be engaged and barriers, including a lack of necessary skills, addressed.

The overall costs of transition to a net-zero economy are manageable, according to the report. Rapid cost reductions in technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2 per cent of GDP to 2050. Costs, however, must be fair, with workers and energy bill payers thinking so. The committee calls on the the Treasury to review how the remaining costs of achieving net-zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.

Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, said: “We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response. 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 thinks Scotland has the potential to be more ambitious than the UK as a whole. It believes the country can aim to reduces its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, with interim targets of 70 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2040.  

Scottish climate change secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “The Committee on Climate Change say that Scotland’s ability to meet these world-leading targets is contingent on the UK Government also accepting their advice and using the relevant policy levers that remain reserved. As such, I call on the UK Government to follow our lead, accept the committee’s advice, and work with us to achieve this goal.

“We can, and we must, end our contribution to climate change. I invite everyone to accept the advice we’ve received and work with us in a just and fair transition to a net-zero economy.”

Wales, on the other hand, “has less opportunity for CO2 storage and relatively high agricultural emissions that are hard to reduce”. The committee feel it is not a credible target for Wales to reduce its greenhouse gas emission to net zero by 2050. Instead, Wales should target a 95 per cent reduction its emissions by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

In a written statement responding to the committee's target for Wales, Lesley Griffiths, minister for environment, energy and rural affairs, said: “The committee has repeated its finding that reducing emissions in Wales is more challenging than the rest of the UK because more of our emissions come from sectors that are hard to reduce.

“A 95 per cent decarbonisation target is, therefore, the appropriate contribution for Wales in supporting an overall net-zero emissions target for the UK as a whole. The advice recognises we need a collective approach across the UK, with everyone playing their part. Wales will encourage action from the UK Government in areas where they hold significant control over Welsh emissions.”

Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming can be found on the Committee on Climate Change website (pdf).

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