Zero Carbon Britain – soon to be enshrined in law?

The UK Climate Minister has instructed the committee that manages the UK’s climate change act to chart ways of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project coordinator Paul Allen reports.


Speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Climate Minister Claire Perry announced that later in the year the UK government will formally ask the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to explore how the UK can increase the ambition of its emissions reduction targets to bring them in line with the demands of the Paris Agreement.

The UK has signed up to the Paris Agreement and so must now enshrine in law a goal of reducing its carbon emissions to net zero. UK climate, energy and land-use policy finally looks set to begin to reflect the evidence base of our science, with a target of remaining “well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C.” Such a goal will require a transformation of energy, transport, industry, land-use and housing.

CAT has been researching zero carbon scenarios for over 10 years now, exploring ways of getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today.

Any net zero emissions plan must take into account the following key factors:

    • It must include land-use: re-thinking diets can improve health and free up land for natural, ecological carbon capture, which can get us to net zero whilst improving natural systems, enhancing biodiversity and offering new income streams to farming families.
    • It must not rely on unproven technology: relying on unproven or highly expensive systems like carbon capture and storage (CCS) can make it seem like we don’t need to move away from fossil fuels now, but these are likely to cause big problems in the near future. Far better to take the ambitious action now, as this can create jobs and income from UK clean energy investments.
    • The UK should not invest in inflexible back up: renewable generation costs have fallen rapidly, and are still falling, so without doubt these will form a very large part of future UK power generation. Earlier this year wind overtook nuclear to be the UK’s second largest energy source. The UK must invest in flexible back-up generation. In April this year the National Grid warned large gas and nuclear generators that they would need to cut output over the summer because of increasing renewable generation – the challenge is that nuclear stations are not getting any cheaper, and are very hard to turn down.
    • It should get people excited about the co-benefits: CAT’s latest report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen, charts a huge range of policy opportunities for innovation, for both Britain’s economy and its people. The necessary zero carbon transition offers a wide range of co-benefits including better housing, affordable and accessible transport, energy self-reliance, reduced obesity, improved health, cleaner air, more jobs and a powerful sense of common purpose.

We believe the shift to zero carbon is one of the most exciting policy opportunities in human history.

With the right policy approach, we can transform isolated, stressful, consumer-focused lifestyles and find better physical and psychological wellbeing by increasing our sense of connection with community and nature.

Getting Britain to zero carbon requires policy intervention aimed at addressing barriers to action, countering consumerism, tackling the ‘lock-in’ of the fossil fuel and other high carbon systems, and addressing the power of vested interests. Policy interventions are also required to move the stranded fossil fuel investments. This money can then be beneficially reinvested to fund zero carbon transition programmes.

To find out more visit http://zerocarbonbritain.org/