The UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published its recommended pathway to a 78 per cent reduction in UK territorial emissions between 1990 and 2035 leading to net zero by 2050. This brings forward the UK’s previous 80 per cent target by nearly 15 years.
The CCC’s chairman, Lord Deben, said: “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the sixth carbon budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery.”
Established under the Climate Change Act 2008 the CCC is an independent, statutory body that produces carbon budgets that the country is legally bound to follow to reduce its carbon emissions in line with the science.
Its sixth carbon budget describes how the UK could get to the net zero goal.
How to reach net zero
By the early 2030s, this CCC says that every new car and van, and every replacement boiler must be zero-carbon, and by 2035, all UK electricity production will be zero carbon.
Modern low-carbon industries will grow, producing hydrogen, capturing carbon, creating new woodlands, and by renovating and decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes. These provide hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the UK.
The sixth carbon budget has four key steps:
- By the early 2030s, all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings would be low-carbon – largely electric.
- By 2040, all new trucks are low-carbon and industry will shift to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
- There will be huge reliance on offshore wind, which will grow from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050.
- It will support transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050.
By this date, low-carbon hydrogen would scale up to be almost as large as electricity production is today, to power shipping, transport and industry, and potentially some buildings, replacing natural gas for heating.
Steel and cement production will have to reach “near zero” emissions by 2035 and 2040.
The country will become much more resource and energy efficient. The CCC advocates a nation-wide insulation drive.
By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland would be planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits.
Around 260,000 hectares of farmland would instead be producing energy crops. Wooded land will cover 15 per cent of the UK by 2035 and 18 per cent by 2050, from 13 per cent today, with two billion new trees planted.
Carbon-storing peatlands would be widely restored and managed sustainably.
Behaviour change will pay a key part. On dietary shift, the CCC says consumption of red meat and dairy should decline by a modest 20 per cent by 2030 and 35 per cent by 2050.
The CCC puts the cost under 1 per cent of GDP, but there will be huge benefits in terms of better health and an improved natural environment. It also advocates that there should be a just transition, with anyone employed in fossil fuel industries compensated and retrained.
Retrofitting buildings would need over 200,000 extra jobs from 2030 to 2050.
On the proposal that after 2028 no home should be sold without an energy efficiency rating (EPC) of C or better, Julie Hirigoyen from the UK Green Building called this “radical but welcome”.
Buildings are presently responsible for 59 per cent of UK electricity consumption and for direct emissions of 85 MtCO? in 2019, split between homes (77 per cent), commercial buildings (14 per cent) and public buildings (9 per cent).
The CCC advocates ultra-high standards of energy efficiency in new homes from 2025 at the latest, delivered through measures such as triple glazing and high levels of airtightness. The government has recently signalled it will bring forward the date of introduction of these requirements to 2023.
New evidence on the costs and performance of thin internal wall insulation, and deep whole house retrofits have been incorporated in the modelling.
Interestingly, the assumptions show that only air to air heat pumps would achieve the same low levelised cost as gas boilers. But heat pumps are only effective in highly insulated buildings. Therefore, they are not suitable for most existing homes at present.
Commenting on the report, Greenpeace’s Dr Doug Parr said: “We’ll need much more legwork from the government over this parliament to reach [these aims]. While some progress has been made recently there remains a yawning gap between our targets over the next decade and action needed to meet them straight away.”
Trade unions welcomed the call for a “Just Transition Strategy” to reach net zero emissions. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “to reach net zero, we need a shared sense of national purpose. Everyone must understand how they will benefit from a climate-safe economy, clean air, healthy land, restored wildlife and new green industries.
“For working people, a just transition means knowing that job security and quality is guaranteed, with training for the great new jobs in green industries. This must begin quickly, to prevent mass unemployment following the pandemic. By fast-tracking public investment in green infrastructure, the government can create over a million jobs in the next two years.”
The TUC has published its own research identifying 1.25 million jobs that can be created in green infrastructure over the next two years.
Martin Harper, at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “The CCC report highlights the vital role nature plays in locking up carbon. Now the UK government needs to pick up the gauntlet, stop burning our precious peatland and invest in restoring nature for wildlife, for people and for a safer climate.”
But Nick Phillips, at the Woodland Trust, said: “On current trends, we will get nowhere near this [tree cover] target. Policies like the upcoming England Tree Strategy and new farm payments system need to be visionary and bold.”