Almost every aspect of British life will need a complete overhaul, from the cars we drive to what we eat and the products we buy, if we are to meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the government’s climate advisers.
The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) today set out in detail the steps we will need to take over the next 30 years in order to effectively end Britain's contribution to the climate crisis.
Within just five years, the UK will need to turn its back on coal-fired power, eat 10 per cent less meat and plant 30,000 hectares of new forest every year in order to be in line with the net-zero goal, the report says. In addition, all new homes built by 2025 will need to be “carbon-neutral” – meaning they must make use of low-carbon heating such as electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas boilers.
By the early 2030s, the sale of new oil and gas boilers for homes must stop completely, along with the sale of new petrol vehicles, the CCC said. At this point, power for cars and heating will increasingly come from low-carbon electricity, according to the report.
The report is the first of its kind in the world, and could help the UK lead the way for other countries as it hosts a key UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, said Lord Deben, chair of the CCC.
“It is about giving the government the way to achieve what it has to achieve,” he told a press briefing. “We have to do it in order to protect the planet, but we also have to do it in order to renew our economy.”
Labour called for the government to “urgently” back the net-zero roadmap set out by the CCC. Matthew Pennycook, shadow climate minister, said: “This comprehensive report brings home the unique challenge presented by the net-zero target, the level of ambition required in this crucial decade if that target is to be met, and the range of potential benefits to be secured if the opportunity is fully seized.”
To reach the net-zero goal, low-carbon investment will need to be scaled up to £50bn each year, the CCC said.
However, the overall cost of achieving the net-zero goal would be less than 1 per cent of annual GDP over the next 30 years, according to CCC calculations.
This is because a switch to clean, more efficient technologies such as electric cars will mean that the country uses fewer costly fossil fuels, the committee said.
The report “shows everyone that saving the planet will not cost the Earth”, said Prof Mark Maslin, a climate scientist at University College London.
“In fact, it will provide a significant boost to the economy and employment. But this exciting UK climate change agenda can only happen if the government delivers the policies, regulations, and incentives to ensure that these significant greenhouse gas cuts are made.”
The low cost of achieving net zero is also linked to the plummeting prices of renewable sources of electricity such as offshore wind and solar, and the emergence of cheap low-carbon solutions in other sectors away from power, the CCC added.
More investment in low-carbon solutions in the coming years could also give a much-needed boost to the economy as it emerges from the Covid pandemic, said Lord Deben.
“These investments which we are going to make are the very investments that we need to make in order to renew our economy. It is a most exciting conjunction,” he added.
The new opportunities created by the journey to net zero, including the need to retrofit Britain’s housing stock and to install more charging points for electric cars, could create up to 200,000 new jobs across the UK, the committee said.
As a key stepping stone to the net-zero goal, the CCC has advised the government to cut the UK’s emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, relative to 1990 levels. This would be a 63 per cent reduction on emissions in 2019.
“It’s worth saying that until last year that was effectively our 2050 target,” said Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC.
“So the implication of net-zero is we have brought that forward by 15 years. That is a measure of how much more ambitious the UK is being.”
This recommended target is the sixth of its kind to come from the CCC. Under the Climate Change Act, the CCC is required to advise the government on setting five-year interim emissions targets, which are known as “carbon budgets”, as it strives to meet its long-term climate goals.
The report follows an announcement from the prime minister last week that he will aim to slash the country’s emissions by 68 per cent by 2030, when compared to 1990 levels.
The prime minister’s 2030 pledge was made as part of the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. The pledge was made based on advice from the CCC, using the same calculations that underpin the new report.
The government now has until the end of June to set the sixth carbon budget into law. This must then be followed by a new set of policies for making sure the emissions target is met.
Reacting to the report Professor Daniela Schmidt, research director at the Faculty of Science, University of Bristol, said: “The CCC now provides the detail needed to move from a governmental ambition to a plan which is economically feasible.
“Such a transition will make the UK a better place to live, with cleaner air, healthier ways of living, greener cities, and a more diverse landscape.”
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at Confederation of British Industry (CBI), added: “Today’s detailed analysis from the CCC demonstrates how important the coming years are for making progress to this important goal.
“As technology costs continue to fall, the pathways to net-zero are becoming clearer. Now is the time for business and government to work together to deliver a transition that will secure both our economic recovery and sustainable growth well into the future.”
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