The ambitious goal – signed into law by Theresa May in 2019 – was a ground-breaking moment for the UK. The ultimate target is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while ensuring that all sectors of the economy are included in the decarbonisation action.
Despite the political turmoil, protests, and climate strikes that challenge the deployment of the strategies needed to achieve the goal, this bold target has come a long way since being one of May’s last acts as Prime Minister. The current government has made an effort to accelerate the transition, securing the UK’s place as a world leader in carbon emissions reduction.
A lot has happened since the legally-binding net-zero transition was signed into law. Recently, the coronavirus crisis has transformed much of the economy, causing it to go into the deepest recession in decades. There is also the issue of a second wave of COVID-19 infections causing unease in the market.
While recent studies reveal a sharp decline in carbon emissions due to the pandemic, the climate emergency remains a priority issue that grows ever more urgent by the day.
Now a year after the UK’s goal became law, more concrete action should be mapped out to ensure that it is achieved as anticipated.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) cited the different measures taken by the government in order to reach the net-zero target. Firstly, a consultation was held regarding the phasing out of diesel and petrol cars by 2035, five years earlier than the previous 2040 deadline. Secondly, £800 million has also been allocated for investment into carbon capture and storage (CCUS) technologies.
Lastly, funding for the UK’s international climate schemes doubled to £11.6 billion from £5.8 billion.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven commented that if the UK government wants to involve businesses, households and local authorities in the creation of suitable investments within the next ten years, then the government has to show its drive to lead the way, and encourage everyone to commit to meeting the decarbonisation targets.
The UK became one of the first countries across the globe to push for a net-zero carbon economy. This pioneering move helped the country earn the honour of hosting COP26, the upcoming round of UN climate discussion.
While the talks have been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis, key individuals have insisted that further action regarding the climate should still be enforced to solidify the UK’s place in the worldwide efforts to save the environment.
Lord Stern, a climate economist, stated that the UK government had made progress despite the different circumstances challenging the delivery and development of climate action. He also said that the government’s language has been consistent with its priorities, which also include making a sustainable recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Energy Institute President Steve Holliday published a statement highlighting the results of the Energy Barometer survey. These results show that 90% of energy experts are worried about the country not being on-target to meet its 2050 net-zero goal. What’s more, over half of the respondents say that the 2030 goals could never be attained without urgent policy action.
On key fronts, however, progress remains slow. Billions of pounds have been invested to bail out carmakers, oil companies, and airlines, and these investments come without green commitments. Home heating is also still considered to be the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions.
According to Friends of the Earth, replacement rates involving low-carbon alternatives are abysmal— ‘net zero’ would likely take 1,500 years based on the current pace.
As of writing, emissions are only down to about 40%, which means that climate action should be taken and policies should be made urgently. While 2050 might sound like a long time from now, development and deployment of technologies could require years of lead time.
Therefore, putting in as much effort in this decade is crucial to ensure that the ‘net-zero by 2050’ goal is met.
According to the Energy Barometer, stimulus packages should be allocated to green jobs and industries, ensuring that recovery is sustainable and consistent with the target. This sentiment was agreed to by 80% of respondents.
The heat and transport sectors should also have concrete plans mapped out to keep them on-track to meet the goal. Incentives and funding to promote low-carbon fuels, hydrogen-powered solutions, CCUS, heat pumps, and other innovative measures are needed to ensure effective climate action in these emissions-intensive sectors.
Only by taking strong action today can the bold targets for 2050 be achieved by the UK.