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How is the UK going to become a ‘zero carbon economy’?

The UK announced it is going to review its existing energy targets to reduce carbon emissions to a “net zero”. We have a look at what this might mean. 

The move to carbon-free builds on the governments “Clean Growth Strategy” first released last October where it set out its proposal for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the 2020’s.

It aimed to meet national and international commitments to tackle climate change such as the Paris Climate Agreement, and set out 50 policies and proposals to drive down emissions over the next decade.

It also set up a Green Finance Taskforce comprising of senior representatives from the finance industry and government to focus on longer term work.

How is the UK revising its targets for climate change? 

Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, told delegates at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that Britain would call on the government’s statutory advisor, the Committee for Climate Change to set out a way to zero carbon emissions.

The Committee will follow report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on how the international community can work towards targets agreed in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

The Energy and Climate unit claims the date recommended by the Committee will be around 2050, the committee itself confirmed that it would be around that time in its response to the government strategy in January.

A leaked draft from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also suggested that the global emissions need to fall to a net zero by mid- century. It notes that the UK, as a developed nation be expected to be ahead of the global average.

France and New Zealand have already committed to a zero emissions goal for 2050. Norway, Iceland and Sweden have targeted earlier.

The 2008 UK Climate Change Act committed to an 80 per cent minimum reduction of greenhouse emissions by 2050 compared to a 1990 baseline.The government claims that emissions have been cut by 42 per cent while the economy has grown by two- thirds since 1990.

Perry said: “After the IPCC report later this year, we will be seeking the advice of the UK’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.”

She also pledged over £8m of investment in technology to tackle global climate change and prepare for natural disasters that are made likely as a result of climate change.

Will it work? 

Put simply, failure is not an option.

The UK earlier this week went 55 hours without coal, breaking its previous record of 40. The government wants to shut down coal plants by 2025, with solar powers and wind turbines picking up the slack. The UK has been an early adopter of renewable energy, and has more offshore wind turbines installed than any other country.

Renewable sources also have prioritised access to the National Grid also highlights how seriously the UK government is taking its mission to go carbon-free.

It is on the right path, but there are still challenges.

“Meeting a net zero target will not be easy for all sectors of the economy,” ,Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minster and Minister for International Development, Cooperation and Climate Change Isabella Lövin wrote in the Guardian.

“We know how to do it for electricity, heating and road transport; for others such as agriculture and aviation it will be more challenging.

“Here, we must trust innovation, the speed of which continues to amaze.”

It is not yet known how dependency on carbon is going to diminish completely, but the Committee for Climate Change already has mapped out scenarios that can reduce it by 90 per cent from the 1990 baseline.

All sectors, where reaching zero emissions is possible, must reach that target, however the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit notes that not all negative energy targets are the same, and that the potential of negative emissions targets is limited.

A report from the European Sciences Academies Advisory Panel found that “Relying on NETs to compensate for failures to adequately mitigate emissions may have serious implications for future generations”.

With all of these factors playing a large part in the UK’s pledge, it is not surprising that the government is consulting the Committee on Climate Change for advise with the best approach.