Committee on Climate Change makes net zero emissions recommendations

May 21, 2019

On 2 May the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its landmark report, Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming, making a series of recommendations to government around the UK phasing out greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050.

The report, which urged the UK to legislate “as soon as possible” to reach net zero GHG emissions by the above date, was published in response to an October 2018 request from the governments of the UK, Wales and Scotland, asking the committee to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets. In it, the CCC outlined its recommendations for what the government must achieve over the coming decades, as well as pointing out a number of areas in which progress should be accelerated and setting specific targets for different parts of the UK.

Now is the right moment

Launching the report, the CCC said that achieving a net zero target by 2050 is in line with the commitments that the UK has under the Paris Agreement. It also said that we are in a “crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change” and that, as such, “now is the right time to set a more ambitious goal”. It explained that the targets and recommendations set out in the report could “are achievable with known technologies” and therefore should be “put into law as soon as possible”. On these technologies, the CCC said that due to decreasing costs for key zero carbon technologies, reaching net zero is possible within the economic costs originally set by Parliament when it passed the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Within its overall target, the CCC concluded that since Wales has less opportunity for carbon storage and relatively high agricultural emissions that are hard to reduce, it should aim for a 95% reduction by 2050. Scotland, it said, “has greater potential to remove pollution from its economy than the UK overall” so should aim to achieve the target by 2045.

On the UK as a whole, the report found that the foundations are in place to meet its target, and that many of the policies that would be needed from government are currently active, or in deployment. As a result, it said that the UK could make significant progress towards achieving an 80% reduction in GHG emissions. The committee praised the expansion of low-carbon electricity in the UK, which had led to a fall in power emissions from electricity generation by 50% since 2013 and 64% since 1990. It noted that this would need to be quadrupled by 2050. It also highlighted that some policy development has begun on building energy efficiency and low-carbon heating, and electric vehicles, CCUS and afforestation.

Policy needs ramping up

However, it also concluded that “a net zero GHG target is not credible unless policy is ramped up significantly”. Most sectors, the committee said, will need to reduce emissions close to zero without offsetting, noting that “the target cannot be met by simply adding mass removal of carbon onto existing plans for the 80% target”.

The committee stated that, in order for progression to continue, the government must “set the direction and provide the urgency”. It also said that the public and stakeholders would need to be engaged if progression to net zero is to be successful, calling for “serious plans” around how to capture and store carbon and deliver the necessary infrastructure – it called the latter “crucial to the delivery of zero GHG emissions and strategically important to the UK economy”.

The report presented several challenges that have yet to be addressed, according to the CCC’s analysis. These include decarbonising the shipping and aviation sectors, large-scale industrial decarbonisation and widespread change in the way that HGVs are fuelled so that they only use low carbon sources.

In its analysis, the CCC made calculations as to the financial costs of achieving net zero by 2050. It said it expects 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.

With regard to implementing its recommendations, the CCC said that an all of government approach would be crucial and that “clear leadership is needed”. It noted that “emissions reduction cannot be left to the energy and environment departments or to the Treasury” and said that the necessary policies should see funding across all sectors of the community as a way of driving innovation and ensuring the uptake of low carbon technologies.

Government outlines scale of the challenge

The CCC’s report followed the publishing of BEIS’s Update Energy and Emissions Projections 2018, an annual report that offers predictions of UK energy demand and GHG emissions up to 2035. In the document, the government said that its Clean Growth Strategy had set out ambitious plans for decarbonising the UK economy.

However, the projections, published on 11 April, showed that the UK remains off target to meet its fourth and fifth five-yearly carbon budgets. While the UK remains on track to meet its third carbon budget – to reduce emissions by 37% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 – BEIS found that it is currently off target to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but by a larger margin than was previously forecast.

In the projections, it was noted that the greatest uplift in forecast emissions has come from the business sector, while the largest reduction was again been seen in energy supply. The transport sector is currently the single largest contributor to UK emissions, and is expected to remain so for the entirety of the projected period to 2035.

The UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets task the UK with reducing emissions by 51% and 57% by 2025 and 2030 respectively, and the government said it will continue with its ambitious implementation of policies and proposals set out in the Clean Growth Strategy to address the gap. But the new projections show increased shortfalls of 139 and 245 MtCO2e respectively relative to last year’s projections (2017 EEP).

Perry remains confident of achieving targets

Despite the evidence outlined in BEIS’s projection, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry recently told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that she is confident that the UK can achieve both its fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

In the 23 April evidence session, held as part of the committee’s inquiry into the technologies needed to help meet the targets outlined in the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), Committee Chair Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat) put it to Perry that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) had concluded that current government policies did not put the UK on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – he asked when they would be achieved. Perry replied that one-third of the 50 policies or procedures for emissions reductions put forward by the CGS were not yet fully developed. Based on that, she said, the UK was 95% of the way towards achieving the fourth carbon budget and 93% towards the fifth. Perry cited an acceleration of policy delivery and a reduction in technology cost, as well as an increased focus.

As well as being confident that the UK would achieve the carbon budgets, Perry was also confident that it would be “well on the way to thinking about achieving a zero-carbon future”.

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