Claire Perry, minister of state for energy and clean growth, recently indicated that the UK could tighten its carbon emissions target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Speaking at the meeting of Commonwealth leaders, the minister announced that she would ask the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to examine the implications of tightening the existing carbon budget. They will be asked to consider the latest science, due to be published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in September this year.
The goal of the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, is to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrials temperatures. Countries translate this temperature target into the action they need to tackle emissions by setting “carbon budgets”.
The UK is already on track to outperform its carbon budgets out to 2022, with emissions already 42% below 1990 levels in 2016. This was due in large part to emission reductions in the power sector. However, further reductions will now be more challenging, and the CCC has pointed to significant gaps in government policy for maintaining progress towards the current 2050 budget of an 80% reduction in emissions.
If more stringent targets are adopted, it would require people to significantly change the way they live and travel. In addition, it can be expected that greater emphasis would be put on reducing the use of natural gas for heat, and that an increase in nuclear generation would need to be considered.
The definition of “net” zero emissions is that any remaining emissions should be balanced by negative emissions solutions such as tree planting or carbon capture and storage (CCS). Indeed, it is advised by the CCC that the take up of CCS is essential if warming targets are to be met. More than £8m of investment has recently been pledged by BEIS for pioneering technology to help tackle global climate change and prepare for the natural disasters that are likely to occur as a result of global warming.
If the UK makes a zero emissions commitment, it would be the first G7 nation to do so, although other countries do also have plans underway to update their 2050 roadmap.