Is a Zero Emissions Target More Probable?

           Carbon and Climate

Earlier this year, the government indicated that it could tighten its carbon emissions target with the aim of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. At the time, Energy Minister Claire Perry said the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) would be asked to explore the implications of a more stringent emissions budget while taking into account the latest climate science, scheduled to be published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC has published its report in recent days, in which it finds that global warming must be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to limit the risk of events such as drought, floods, and heatwaves. While climate-related impacts are significant at warming of 1.5°C, the effects of a 2°C rise would have far greater impacts on health, ecosystems, water stress, and food poverty.

To limit global warming to 1.5°C, the report advises that global emissions of CO2 would need to see cuts of 45% by 2030 (against 2010) and reach net-zero by 2050. This would require rapid and far-reaching changes to our resource use. Under the Paris Agreement, 197 countries have agreed an aim to hold the rise in global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. However, indications are that we are currently on a trajectory towards 3°C of warming.

Panmao Zhai, co-chair of an IPCC Working Group said: “One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”

Following the urgent message in the IPCC report, it is now the turn of policymakers to respond. As a result, there is increased likelihood that the CCC will recommend a 2050 target of net-zero emissions for the UK. Through the Climate Change Act, the government has already committed to reduce emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The country is on track to outperform interim carbon budgets out to 2022, with emissions already 42% below 1990 levels in 2016. However, further reductions will be more challenging, underlining the requirement to further develop low-carbon technologies.

Nikki Wilson

Nikki joined Alfa Energy in September 2015 as a Carbon Management Consultant where she advises clients on legislation, compliance, and the implementation of carbon management schemes. She is a Practitioner member of IEMA, has a postgraduate diploma in Environmental Decision Making, and has over 15 years’ experience in energy consultancy.