Britain Adopts 2050 Net Zero Emissions Target

You may have seen this headline banded around in the news over the last few weeks, and for good reason – it’s a significant breakthrough towards a low carbon future, with Britain leading the way by adopting this hard stance.

So, what exactly does net zero emissions mean?

Essentially, net zero emissions mean that every home, business, transport type, and industry in the UK must completely cut, or offset, their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This is an even more ambitious target than the goal of reducing emissions by 80% but has been advised by the Committee on Climate Change as being a necessity to avoid the 1.5C rise in temperature by 2100.  

The UK is the first of the G7 Group to make this commitment

We’ve already seen commitments to achieve net zero emissions, including Finland who aim to achieve this by 2035 and Norway by 2030. Closer to home, Scotland has already committed to achieving this goal by 2045.

However, the UK is the first of the G7 group of industrialised nations to implement a net zero emissions legislation.

This is a large statement and is one that’s been designed to encourage other members of G7 to follow suit. The report claimed that if other countries also committed to an aggressive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions then there is a 50-50 chance that the world will stay below the 1.5C threshold for dangerous climate action.

In a recent session, PM May urged the G20 countries to act on climate change and set targets for net zero greenhouse gas emissions. During this session, 19 of the 20 leaders committed to the “irreversibility” of the 2015 Paris agreement and the full implementation of its targets. The only member who did not sign was US President Donald Trump.

This move adds extra weight as Britain is the birthplace of coal fired power generation, one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. By adding historical responsibility to carbon emissions, Britain is the world’s top contributor closely followed by USA, Canada, Russia and Germany. 

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How the UK will achieve net zero emissions

 The strategy for this goal has yet to be laid out, but there have been a number of recent moves from the government which can give us some idea.

 For example, the UK are investing £26million into nine carbon capture projects to help accelerate the roll out of this technology. One of these nine projects is Tata Chemicals Europe plant in Cheshire, the largest carbon capture, utilisation and stores project to date – this one plant alone would look at capturing and utilising 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

 Additionally, the government has pledged to plant 3 billion trees by 2050, with the majority of them being planted with the first 15 years of this project. This is a highly ambitious goal and equates as 270,000 trees planted every single day. 

To make net zero emissions a reality, the UK will need to fundamentally rethink many ways of working – from businesses, to manufacturing to the home. There will likely be a big push for more renewable energy sources, with projects like Swansea Tidal Lagoon offering a consistent, large scale source of power.

In 2018 alone, more than 13 gigawatts of clean energy contracts were signed. In the last two years we’ve seen a large uptake in the number of renewable energy projects being adopted – specifically wind generation, with a huge push in 2017-18 for more offshore wind, taking the UK to nearly 20 terawatt hours of installed capacity.

The impact on businesses and people

Currently, the legislation allows a loophole for international carbon credits which can allow corporations to effectively buy net zero emissions. Many, including Greenpeace and the chair of the Committee of Climate Change, have warned against such credits as it can shift the burden to developing nations.

 While some businesses may take this loophole approach and simply pay to offset their carbon consumption, the aim is that most businesses and individuals will be taking drastic steps to lower emissions either by reducing their consumption or utilising clean energy sources.

In extreme cases, we may see restrictions or higher tax on high-carbon meats, such as beef, or even a clamp down on flying. However, this is unlikely to happen due to the opposition these political decisions would face.

 It’s more likely that we’ll see a much greater investment in the “clean revolution” to allow for a painless transition into net zero emissions. This has already started to take place with the number of manufacturers who have started to produce electric cars, as well as the news last month about the infrastructure investments.

For this infrastructure and innovation to happen, it requires heavy investment and currently the government hasn’t stated who will be covering this cost – bill payers, tax payers or fossil fuel firms.

Net Zero Emissions on an international level

 While these targets have been set by the UK, in order for them to be truly hit they cannot be done entirely at home. There’s a huge amount of international collaboration that is needed to ensure that net zero is achieved.

To align with this goal, fuel imports, produce imports and overseas manufacturing all need to be net zero carbon. This relies on putting pressure on international trade deals to meet these standards, something which will need to be heavily driven by businesses across the UK.

What about the cost?

For this infrastructure and innovation to happen, it requires heavy investment and currently the government hasn’t stated who will be covering this cost – bill payers, tax payers or fossil fuel firms.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond warned that this new target would likely cost the UK £1trillion by 2050. This is a figure that Bjorn Lomborg, of Skeptical Environmentalist, likely believes is underestimated against the true cost.  However, this doesn’t take into account the benefits that cleaner air will have on the health system or the number of clean energy jobs that will be created.

The acting energy minister, Chris Skidmore, claimed that the costs for this would be between 1 and 2% of the UK’s GDP – an amount which was already factored in for the pre-existing 80% reduction target. This would mean that money would not have to come from elsewhere in order to meet these targets.

The cost of doing nothing

While many may hesitate at the cost of tackling climate change, the cost of doing nothing is even more extreme. Just from a health perspective, the WHO estimate that exposure to air pollution causes 7 million deaths worldwide and costs US$5.11trillion in welfare losses globally each year.

There are lots of estimates for the social cost of carbon (SCC) which looks at the costs to society for the negative consequences of climate change. This factors in things from increased health requirements due to air pollution through to land lost from rising sea levels and much more.

Predicting SCC isn’t an exact science and as such there are many different estimates – in the Journal of Cleaner Production, they argue that the current SCC is US$112.86 per tonne of carbon.

Based on 2018 figures, which were 2.5% lower than 2017, the UK’s carbon emissions would have an SCC of US$41.1trillion or £32.6trillion each year. Over the next 30 years, that would be more than 960 times the amount that Chancellor Phillip Hammond believes the UK would pay in order to achieve net zero emissions.

What can my business do to help achieve Net Zero emissions?

Taking action is simple and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to change the way your business operates.

One of the simplest things you can do is move to a renewable tariff – at amber we’re a green energy consultant and can help you move to a tariff that’s better for the environment without costing you the world.

We’d also recommend looking at your current levels of efficiency and start implementing quick wins and scoping long term projects to improve your baseline energy consumption. Not only will this help to reduce your business overheads, but you’ll lower your carbon footprint at the same time.  

For more information on what you can do to lower your footprint please get in touch with us at hello@amberenergy.net

 

NewsJoe Hickman