The government should adopt an "ambitious goal" to reduce net greenhouse gases emissions to zero by 2050 and ramp up measures to cut emissions "significantly" to meet it, its advisers have said.
A report published today by the Committee on Climate Change said a 2050 deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero would be achievable “at an acceptable cost”, but only if it introduces “clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy”.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy wrote to the committee last year asking for advice on achieving its Clean Growth Strategy, including whether it should set a deadline for reducing emissions to net zero. Today BEIS said it would not automatically accept the recommendations, but that it would respond “in due course”.
The foundations for a net-zero emissions economy have already been laid, the committee said. Measures either in place or under development include energy-efficient buildings, low-carbon hearing and a supply of low-carbon electricity – which it said would need to quadruple by 2050.
“Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed,” the report said.
“Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.”
Among other things, the report said the government must back the development of carbon capture and storage technologies as “a necessity not an option”, move up the deadline for transitioning to electric vehicles, stop biodegradable waste going to landfill and introduce measures to cut farming emissions.
The costs of cutting emissions are “manageable” but must be shared fairly, the report said. Some costs will be saved as the cost of technologies such as offshore wind and electric vehicle batteries drops, and the committee urged the Treasury to carry out a review of how the remaining costs should be managed in a way that is fair for both businesses and consumers.
Last year the committee warned that the government was on track to miss the greenhouse gas targets it had set itself for the 2020s and 2030s, after finding reductions had stalled in the past five years.
Its chair, John Gummer – also known as Lord Deben – told CSW a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned that global temperatures could rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030 should be a “clarion call” for governments to act.
Commenting on today’s report, he 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.”
Business secretary Greg Clark said the report recognised work that has already been done to cut emissions, including record levels of low-carbon electricity generation and plans to transition to electric vehicles.
“To continue the UK’s global leadership we asked the CCC to advise the government on how and when we could achieve net zero,” he said.
“This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.”