What is the UK’s Net Zero commitment and is it achievable?

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With Net Zero in the news more and more recently, what exactly is the commitment the UK has made and how can you, as a business, help contribute to reaching this challenging target?

With global focus on Net Zero initiaives as part of the Paris Agreement, the UK should set and vigorously pursue an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to ‘net-zero’ by 2050, ending the UK’s contribution to global warming within 30 years.

Reflecting their respective circumstances, Scotland should set a net-zero GHG target for 2045 and Wales should target a 95% reduction by 2050 relative to 1990.

A net-zero GHG target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.

However, this is only possible if clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions
further are introduced across the economy without delay. Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets.

A net-zero GHG target for 2050 would respond to the latest climate science and fully meet the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement:

• It would constitute the UK’s ‘highest possible ambition’, as called for by Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. The Committee do not currently consider it credible to aim to reach net-zero emissions earlier than 2050.

• It goes beyond the reduction needed globally to hold the expected rise in global average
temperature to well below 2°C and beyond the Paris Agreement’s goal to achieve a balance
between global sources and sinks of greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the

• If replicated across the world, and coupled with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions, it would deliver a greater than 50% chance of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Now is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change, with revised pledges of effort currently being considered ahead of the UN climate summit in late-2020. An ambitious new UK target would encourage increases in ambition elsewhere, including the adoption of other netzero GHG targets, such as the 2050 target currently under consideration by the European Union. In committing to a net-zero GHG target, Parliament must understand that, while many of the policy foundations are in place, a major ramp-up in policy effort is now required:

• The foundations are in place. Policy development has begun for many of the components
needed to reach net-zero GHG emissions: low-carbon electricity (which must quadruple its
supply by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (needed throughout the
building stock), electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage (CCS), diversion of
biodegradable waste from landfill, phase-out of fluorinated gases, increased afforestation
and measures to reduce emissions on farms. These policies must be strengthened and they
must deliver action.

• A net-zero GHG target is not credible unless policy is ramped up significantly. Most
sectors will need to reduce emissions close to zero without offsetting; the target cannot be
met by simply adding mass removal of CO2 onto existing plans for the 80% target.
Delivery must progress with far greater urgency. Many current plans are insufficiently
ambitious; others are proceeding too slowly, even for the current 80% target:
2040 is too late for the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans, and current
plans for delivering this are too vague.

Over ten years after the Climate Change Act was passed, there is still no serious plan
for decarbonising UK heating systems and no large-scale trials have begun for either
heat pumps or hydrogen.

Carbon capture (usage) and storage, which is crucial to the delivery of zero GHG
emissions and strategically important to the UK economy, is yet to get started. While
global progress has also been slow, there are now 43 large-scale projects operating
or under development around the world, but none in the UK.

Afforestation targets for 20,000 hectares/year across the UK nations (due to increase
to 27,000 by 2025), are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares planted
on average over the last five years. The voluntary approach that has been pursued so
far for agriculture is not delivering reductions in emissions.

Challenges that have not yet been confronted must now be addressed by
government. Industry must be largely decarbonised, heavy goods vehicles must also
switch to low-carbon fuel sources, emissions from international aviation and shipping
cannot be ignored, and a fifth of our agricultural land must shift to alternative uses that
support emissions reduction: afforestation, biomass production and peatland restoration.
Where there are remaining emissions these must be fully offset by removing CO₂ from
the atmosphere and permanently sequestering it, for example by using sustainable
bioenergy in combination with CCS.

Clear leadership is needed, right across Government, with delivery in partnership
with businesses and communities. Emissions reduction cannot be left to the energy
and environment departments or to the Treasury.1 It must be vital to the whole of
government and to every level of government in the UK. Policies must be fully funded
and implemented coherently across all sectors of the economy to drive the necessary
innovation, market development and consumer take-up of low-carbon technologies, and
to positively influence societal change.

• Overall costs are manageable but must be fairly distributed.
‒ There have been rapid cost reductions during mass deployment for key technologies
(e.g. offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles). As a result, we now expect that a
net-zero GHG target can be met at an annual resource cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to
2050, the same cost as the previous expectation for an 80% reduction from 1990.
‒ The transition, including for workers and energy bill payers, must be fair, and perceived
to be fair. Government should develop the necessary frameworks to ensure this. An early
priority must be to review the plan for funding and the distribution of costs for
businesses, households and the Exchequer.

The background for this update is one of increased awareness of climate risks and falling lowcarbon technology costs, but where global emissions continue to rise:

• Global average temperature has already risen 1°C from pre-industrial levels and climate risks are increasingly apparent. The Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018 emphasised the critical importance of limiting further 1 i.e. the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra); and HM Treasury (HMT).
Executive summary 13 warming to as low a level as possible and the need for deep and rapid reductions in emissions to do so.

• Current pledges of effort from countries across the world would lead to warming of around 3°C by the end of the century. This is an improvement on the warming of over 4°C expected when the UK Climate Change Act was passed, but it is well short of the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal to limit the rise to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to 1.5°C.

• While the UK has demonstrated that it is possible to cut emissions while growing the
economy, global emissions continue to rise.

• However, falling costs for key technologies mean that the future will be different from the
past: renewable power (e.g. solar, wind) is now as cheap as or cheaper than fossil fuels in
most parts of the world.

The World Renewable Energy Association advises on hundreds of renewable energy projects across the UK. If you are a business or local authority that has an interest in producing its own energy, sustainably, learn more by visiting our recently launched finance hub. Please register prior to contacting the Association.