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13 June 2019 5 min read

Net Zero 2050 - What the tough climate targets mean for the UK

Edmund Phillips

Edmund Phillips
Senior Manager | Energy, utilities and resources | London

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that the Government will amend the Climate Change Act 2008 to require British territorial emissions to be zero on a net basis (i.e., after accounting for measures to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) by 2050. This replaces the previous target of reducing emissions by 80% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. Net zero by 2050 would deliver the UK’s commitment to The Paris Agreement, and puts the country on a pathway that, if replicated globally, is compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

We already knew in general terms what achieving an 80% target meant: substantially decarbonising all the major emitting sectors: power, industry, buildings (largely heating) and transport. However, the 80% target left some “wriggle room” to continue emitting in the hardest-to-decarbonise parts of these sectors; with net-zero that wriggle room goes. Already planned-for changes must be pushed further and faster:

  • Even more low-carbon electricity generation and electrification of heating and transport;
  • Earlier phase-out of petrol and diesel in light vehicles;
  • Further improvements in efficiency in the building stock and in industry.

Furthermore, measures which previously seemed optional or ambitious will become essential to squeeze out the hardest to reach emissions:

  • Development of a substantial hydrogen industry: essential to displace fossil fuels in industry, heavy vehicles, and shipping
  • Deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage: though it was difficult to deliver existing targets without CCS, net-zero makes deploying this technology at substantial scale essential
  • Changes in land use: a substantial programme of reforestation
  • Societal choices: changed diets, and reduced consumption of other carbon-intensive activities such as long-haul flights

The impact on businesses over the coming years could be substantial. To put the country on a pathway compatible with net zero, Government will need to put in place policies that enable these changes by the mid-2020s. Thereafter, business will need to be begin planning the supply chains, investments and commercial models that deliver it.