UK Adopts Net Zero Emissions Target by 2050

26 June 2019

ECO is excited to see the trickle of pledged national net zero goals gaining momentum, with the potential to become a flood by 2020 when, ECO reminds you, all countries should have submitted updated NDCs in line with the 1.5ºC imperative and the need to reduce global CO2 emissions by around half by 2030.

A newcomer to this net zero club is the UK. In May, its Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommended that the UK could adopt a net zero greenhouse gas goal by 2050 €“ advice, which was accepted by the government on June 12th. Although ECO has reservations on the lateness of the date – 2040 would seem a more appropriate outer limit €“ this change in target would be transformative for the UK, not least as it covers for all greenhouse gases, not only CO2

The CCC is notably conservative in its modeling, and has publicly noted, with some chagrin, how far out its assumptions were on the costs of renewables when it helped to prepare the groundwork for the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008. This time, it has still been cautious about its assumptions on the roll out of innovations, it makes no assumptions on the benefits to the UK economy of the transition to a net zero emission economy and hasn’t considered the benefits of avoided costs of impacts. Since the CCC scenarios assume that even in these circumstances the cost to the UK economy would only be 1-2% – the same as it found in modelling done in 2007 €“ factoring these points in would mean it might be financially advantageous to the UK overall.

The CCC’s recommendation includes no international offsets, unlike a number of the other net zero offers. The government wants to reserve the right to use them, however, against the CCC’s wise advice. Use of international offsets would smear the difference between the UK’s mitigation obligation and its obligation to provide adequate climate finance for developing countries, and delay the transformation to the economy that is needed.

The recommended target also includes the country’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, again making it unusually ambitious even among the net zero club. 

Whatever the net zero date, the crucial thing is for the UK €“ and other developed countries especially €“ to reduce their emissions as fast and as far as possible. After all, it is the overall spend of the carbon budget that matters most, as important as a net zero target is.

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