The UK should phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said today.
The official adviser to the government on climate change said the target should be put into law as soon as possible. The reductions were achievable with known technologies alongside improvements in people’s lives, it said.
The target is the most ambitious so far recommended by the CCC and follows the Paris Climate Agreement and a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the implications of a 1.5C rise in temperature.
It comes as MPs approved a motion last night to declare an environment and climate emergency. The Welsh Assembly also backed a climate emergency yesterday. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, declared a climate emergency at the SNP conference at the weekend.
“Clear policies needed to meet targets”
The CCC said Scotland should achieve net zero emissions by 2045 because it has a greater capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole.
Wales has less opportunity for carbon storage and relatively high emissions from farming so it should achieve a 95% reduction by 2050, it said.
To meet the targets, the CCC said “clear, stable and well-designed policies” must be introduced across the economy, including international flights and shipping.
The CCC called for “strong leadership” at the heart of government and policies must be designed with both business and consumers in mind.
“Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed.”
Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said:
“We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response. The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part – but it can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted.
“The Government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.”
Today’s report comes 10 years after the passing of the Climate Change Act, the world’s first legally-binding long-term emissions target. This set a target of an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 19990 levels by 2050.
The CCC said serious plans were needed to clean up heating systems in UK buildings. New approaches to low-carbon heating and energy efficiency were needed, with changes to the fabric of homes, it said.
The country needed to deliver technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and make changes to the way we use land. Diets needed to shift to lower beef, lamb and dairy consumption.
All new cars and vans should be electric by 2035, if not sooner. Arrangements were needed by the mid-2020s for zero emission heavy goods vehicles. Biodegradable waste should not be sent to landfill after 2025 and the supply of low-carbon power must expand rapidly. Potent fluorinated gases must be phased out and there should be increased tree planting.
The report makes no specific reference to UK onshore gas or oil production, shale gas or fracking. But the recommendations have implications for gas use and fossil fuel industries.
The CCC said a 32% reduction in gas consumption and 82% in oil consumption was needed by 2050.
Boilers running on natural gas would need to be replaced with low carbon heating systems. These could include smart electric heating, heat pumps or boilers powered by hydrogen. The hydrogen was assumed to be made from natural gas in conjunction with carbon capture and storage, it said.
A small amount of biogas could be used in gas-fired CCS power generation and to displace natural gas in industry and buildings
Current gas distribution networks would be decommissioned or repurposed for hydrogen if feasible.
Significant reductions in gas use across buildings, industry and power would be offset by new demand for gas to produce hydrogen. But it would still mean the UK would become less dependent on gas imports. Dependency on oil imports would all fall, it said.
Costs and benefits
The CCC said rapid reductions in costs of offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles meant that the net zero emissions target could be met at an annual cost of 1-2% of gross domestic product up to 2050. It said the costs must be, and be perceived to be, fair.
The report said there would be benefits from a low carbon economy, including better air quality, less noise, more cycling and walking, healthier diets and increased use of land for recreation.
“Currently the general public has a low awareness of the need to move away from natural gas heating and what the alternatives might be. There is a limited window to engage with people over future heating choices, to understand their preferences and to factor these into strategic decisions on energy infrastructure.
Friends of the Earth said the UK can and should go faster towards net zero emissions than the CCC recommendations. It has produced a Climate Action Plan that the government should implement to achieve net zero emissions by 2045 at the latest. It covers transport, buildings, green jobs, and the UK’s contribution to helping vulnerable countries, as well as aiming for 100% clean energy and stopping airport expansion.
FOE’s climate campaigner, Aaron Kiely, said:
“The world’s scientists have told us that every additional half-degree of warming really matters. A target that slashes the UK’s emissions, and therefore our overall contribution to climate change, is desperately needed.
“While this is a massive body of important and credible work, it needs to inject more urgency. A roughly fifty-fifty chance of exceeding 1.5 degrees is worse odds than Russian roulette. Every government across the globe should be aiming to get to net zero as soon as possible.
“By ramping up some measures, for example by aiming to double tree cover rather than a slight increase, the UK could get to net zero sooner. The Committee are saying that net zero is possible by 2050 but that doesn’t mean we should accept this as the height of ambition. There are no speed cameras on the road to net zero, we can and must go faster.”
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:
‘Climate change is the greatest threat facing the countryside. From prolonged heatwaves and moorland wildfires, to severe and more frequent flooding, our countryside is under severe pressure from the impact of climate breakdown – but it will also provide many of the solutions.
‘By prioritising policies and funding that will see better land use, dramatically reduce emissions from agriculture, increase the planting of hedgerows and trees, and restore our peatlands, we can drive carbon back into the ground. Our transition to renewable energy must intensify and a deadline set for the phasing out of fossil fuels. The government’s pro-fracking agenda must be dropped altogether.’
The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is to hear evidence on 8 May on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first session, on 8 May, will hear from climate specialists. The energy minister, Claire Perry, will give evidence at a later date.
The chair of the committee, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, said:
“We are facing a climate change emergency and I welcome the Committee on Climate Change’s report which sets out a compelling case for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Achieving this target will not be without its challenges, but it is vital that Government commits to net-zero and brings forward the policies needed for the UK to deliver it and capitalise on the future industrial opportunities offered by pursuing clean growth.
“We are currently not on target to meet the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets, let alone achieve net zero so the stark reality is that the UK Government has a lot to do to help deliver a better planet for our children. On onshore wind, on electric vehicles, on carbon capture and storage, and on a range of other transport and energy areas such as energy efficiency, the Government needs to up its game and come forward with the policies, actions, and regulations needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
“As a Committee, we will over the coming weeks be examining how to implement the 2050 target and holding the UK Government to account for its response to this challenge”.
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said:
“We note that the Committee on Climate Change report published today recognises that we will continue to be using significant quantities of natural gas in the UK out to 2050 and beyond in conjunction with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology and in producing hydrogen as an alternative energy for the future.
“We also note the assumption in the report that the CO2 and methane emissions generated in importing natural gas into the UK over huge distances by ship and by pipeline are not to be accounted for by the UK. Imported gas therefore lands into the UK effectively emission free. This smacks of creative carbon accounting and is not a credible or safe assumption.
“All concerned about addressing climate change should accept that using natural gas extracted here in the UK, such as the 1,300 trillion cubic feet beneath our feet in the Bowland Shale, is environmentally far more responsible than importing gas from thousands of miles away.
“The committee’s report highlights some tough proposals if we are to become net zero by 2050, but it is also clear that our demand for gas will remain and could be 86% imported gas by then if we don’t establish our own source.
“For these reasons we urge the Government to support our request for a review of the regulations and assist the onshore shale gas industry in becoming commercially viable and assisting the country in achieving our ambitious climate change aims.”
UKOOG, the industry organisation for onshore oil and gas said:
UK Onshore Oil and Gas, (UKOOG), notes the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations today including the absolute need for both Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and hydrogen production. We further note that the working assumption is that the hydrogen used is assumed to come mainly from natural gas reformation in the UK with CCS as this appears to be the lowest cost option. The hydrogen will be used in both the electricity and heating sectors.
The Committee also pointed out that gas consumption in 2050 will be 600 TWh against an estimate for UK production of only 85 TWh. In addition, oil consumption will be 140 TWh against an estimate of 130 TWh for UK production.
This means that without onshore gas and oil there will be a considerable import dependency (as high as 86%) even under net zero conditions. A BEIS report published just last week concluded that the pre-combustion production, processing and transport of liquified natural gas, (LNG), generates double the amount of greenhouse gas emissions compared with a domestic supply.
We therefore believe the economic and environmental case for onshore gas and oil in the UK is as strong today as it ever has been.