UKERC experts inform Committee on Climate Change ‘net zero’ target

02 May 2019

The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, according to recommendations in a report by the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) [1]. Professor Jim Watson (UKERC Director) and Professor Paul Ekins (UKERC Deputy Director) chaired advisory groups to the CCC for this report.

Achieving ‘net zero’ by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb the release of polluting gases that cause climate change.

Professor Jim Watson Chair of the UK Net Zero Advisory Group for the CCC which addressed how the UK can reduce emissions to net-zero [2], said:

“A transition to a net-zero UK economy is technically achievable. The main question is whether it can be delivered in practice. In addition to adopting a net zero target, government will need to implement fundamental and wide-ranging policy reforms necessary to achieve this goal by 2050.

“These reforms are needed so that climate change mitigation becomes a central goal of the UK’s economic policy – and not just a matter of climate change and energy policy. This means a central role for the Treasury, monitoring emissions as closely as we monitor GDP growth and employment, and ensuring that all government decisions are compatible with a net zero pathway. It is also crucial that the government strategy for net zero provides the right incentives for businesses and has justice at its heart. If the costs and benefits of the net zero transition are not distributed fairly, there is a high risk it will be derailed.”

Professor Paul Ekins, Chair of the Advisory Group on the costs and benefits of achieving net zero [3] and Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources said:

“Hopefully the CCC net zero report will lay to rest once and for all the misperception that deep decarbonisation is either impossibly difficult or impossibly expensive. The Advisory Group on Costs and Benefit looked in detail at the opportunities for decarbonisation and the associated costs, and came to the unequivocal conclusion that the net zero target in 2050 could be achieved with at worst small costs and possibly with significant net economic benefits.

“The assumptions underlying this conclusion are that innovation in low-carbon technologies continues through support for their development and large-scale deployment, and that government policy is credible, consistent and long-term, employing both regulation and market-based instruments in an appropriate mix. While achieving ‘net zero’ by 2050 will be challenging, it should be seen as an industrial opportunity to enable UK businesses to engage in some of the fastest-growing market sectors in the world. With its Clean Growth Strategy, the government has some of the building blocks for this effort in place. It now needs to greatly accelerate its implementation of the ideas it sets out there and those in the CCC report.”


UKERC researchers made several other contributions to the CCC report including:
  • An evidence review on the deployment potential and costs of negative emissions technologies, led by UKERC Co-Director Dr Rob Gross [4]
     
  • Co-funding global analysis of emissions pathways, led by UKERC researcher Steve Pye at UCL
     
  • Providing new evidence on the conditions for accelerated innovation for net zero in collaboration with Vivid Economics, for a report commissioned by the Aldersgate Group [5]


Global average temperatures have already risen by 1oC from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are increasingly apparent, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather. In the last ten years, global pledges to reduce emissions have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4ºC by the end of the century to around 3oC. Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C.

The CCC’s recommended targets cover all sectors of the UK, Scottish and Welsh economies, are achievable with known technologies alongside improvements in people’s everyday lives and should be put into law as soon as possible, according to the report.

The CCC’s report, which was requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018 finds that:
  • The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include (but aren’t limited to): a supply of low-carbon electricity, efficient buildings and low-carbon heating.
     
  • Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050.
     
  • The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed.

 

The report shows there are multiple benefits of a transition to a zero-carbon economy, including benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise from quieter vehicles, healthier travelling / commuting options through cycling and walking, healthier diets and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.

The UK could also receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, 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.”

ENDS

Notes to Editor

[1] Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-the-uks-contribution-to-stopping-global-warming/

[2] UK Net-Zero Advisory Group to the Committee on Climate Change, Chair’s Final Report: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/UK-Net-Zero-Advisory-Group-Chair-Report.pdf

[3] Report to the Committee on Climate Change of the Advisory Group on Costs and Benefits of Net Zero, Chair Report: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Advisory-Group-on-Costs-and-Benefits-of-Net-Zero.pdf

[4] Daggash, A., et al. (2019) Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and direct air carbon capture and storage: Examining the evidence on deployment potential and costs in the UK: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/programmes/technology-and-policy-assessment/bioenergy-with-ccas.html

[5] Kazaglis, A., et al. (2019) Accelerating innovation towards net zero emissions: http://www.vivideconomics.com/publications/accelerating-innovation-towards-net-zero-emissions

Media contact:

Jessica Bays
Tel: +44 (0)7809 239 308
Email: j.bays [at] ucl.ac.uk