What must the government do to get on track for 2050 net zero?

Last year climate experts set out 25 policy actions the UK should adopt. Only one of these has been delivered in full

Phoebe Weston
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 10 July 2019 00:03
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2050 net zero: Government is falling short of target, says Committee on climate change CEO

UK action to slash greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change is lagging far behind what is needed, according to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) annual report to parliament.

The gap between what is being done and what needs to be done to meet existing targets is growing, the committee warned.

Last year authors of the report set out 25 policy actions that the UK government should adopt to reduce emissions. Twelve months later only one of these has been delivered in full.

The policy actions are spread across key sectors: power; industry; transport; buildings; agriculture, forestry and land use, and waste. This is a summary of what the government has done so far and what needs to be done if the UK is going to reach the net zero 2050 target.

Power

The only sector which has seen good progress is power which has made the most significant reductions for the fifth year in a row.

In the past few months the UK has set a number of coal-free milestones and this change has been driven by strong policies favouring renewable energies. Coal-fired power generation has fallen from a 40 per cent share of electricity in 2012 to a 5 per cent share in 2018.

The authors say this represents a “significant success” and is clear evidence that policy can drive down emissions.

Industry

The government has created an ambitious industrial decarbonisation clusters mission.

A key aim of this is to create a net zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040 which will rely on carbon capture and storage (CCS) to suck out carbon dioxide from emissions. This would be a world first.

Last month the government awarded £26m of funding for nine CCS projects. The committee says these promising proposals need to be turned into concrete policies.

CCS technology should be operational by the mid 2020s and working at scale from the 2030s, the committee said.

Transport

Transport has the largest emissions of any UK sector, accounting for 23 per cent of total emissions.

Despite a slight increase in demand, vehicles are more fuel efficient and use of biofuels has also increased. This should result in emissions falling significantly but last year total emissions dropped by just 2 per cent.

The authors wrote: “Reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions of new vehicles have fallen well short of our indicators. Lack of progress over several years has contributed significantly to surface transport now being the highest-emitting sector in the UK.”

No progress has been made on strengthening incentives to purchase cleaner vehicles and the report says phasing out conventional petrol and vehicle cars by 2040 is too late and should be moved forward to 2030.

Aviation emissions are a big sticking point with Heathrow set to expand despite advice from the CCC that emissions in 2050 should be no higher than those in 2005.

Further delays in adopting policy changes in this area are likely to make reaching the fourth and fifth carbon budgets extremely difficult.

Buildings

All key building policy gaps identified in 2018 remain partly or completely unaddressed. Plans for phasing out fossil fuel heating in properties off the gas grid remain unclear.

Energy efficient measures in buildings are being deployed 20 per cent slower than the recommended rate. The implementation of low-energy heat pumps also remains weak.

Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use

The environment department has made no changes in terms of reducing emissions despite the committee recommending stronger policies to reduce them three years ago.

Since 2013 tree planting rates in England have been below the 5,000-hectare target set every year. Last year just 1,430 hectares of woodland was planted in England. This was seven million trees short of the target.

The committee says 30,000 hectares should be reforested across the UK.

It also recommends the new environment bill should pay farmers to deliver emissions reductions and other environmental benefits such as improving the health of soils.

Waste

The Resource and Waste Strategy aims to end biodegradable waste going to landfill in 2035. The committee said it should happen by 2025.

The committee also advises that England achieves recycling rates of 70 per cent by 2025.

“This latest CCC report shows the government has failed dismally to back up its rhetoric with ambitious policies which deliver the cuts in emissions the UK needs to achieve,” said Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee.

“Getting to net zero will require action across all parts of government and our economy. Yet, in areas such as electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy, we have seen the government has been too lacking in the ambition and political will to deliver the concrete policies necessary to make an impact.”

A government spokeswoman said: “As the CCC recognises, we are the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions, have cleaned up our power sector, cut emissions faster than any G7 country while growing the economy, championed adaptation and set a strong example for other countries to follow.

“We know there is more to do and legislating for net zero will help to drive further action.

“We’ll set out plans in the coming months to tackle emissions from aviation, heat, energy, agriculture and transport as well further measures to protect the environment from extreme weather including flood protection and nature restoration.”

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