‘Net Zero’ UK commitment, acceleration of EV uptake

July 22, 2019

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report calls for ‘Net Zero’ UK commitment, acceleration of EV uptake

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published a landmark report which calls for the UK to adopt a world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report calls for the target for electric cars introduction to be brought forward and for the accelerated introduction of low carbon technologies for other harder-to-electrify vehicle types, such as long-range trucks.

The CCC says that a net-zero GHG target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It says that the target is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.

The Committee has recommended an earlier target for Scotland (net-zero by 2045), pointing to Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole. The Scottish Government was quick to accept the challenge. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Scottish Government will legislate on the 2045 target. For Wales, the Committee recommends a 95% reduction target by 2050.

The Committee warns, however, that Net Zero will only be possible if clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay. It says that current policy is insufficient to meet even the existing targets.

Road transport is highlighted as one of the more challenging areas in terms of decarbonisation. In its Technical Report the CCC proposes a ‘further ambition’ scenario in which the ending of sales of non-zero emission cars, vans and motorcycles is brought forward to 2035 at the latest (from the Government’s proposed deadline of 2040). It says that regulatory approval of non-zero emission vehicles limited to 2050 at the latest.

It says that cars and vans can switch, cost-effectively, to electric vehicles and that buses can also change to electricity and hydrogen fuel. The report acknowledges the challenges in decarbonising longer range trucks saying that HGVs should transition to zero emission options including hydrogen and electrification throughout the 2030s but that strong efforts are needed now to determine the best solutions.

The CCC says that electric vehicles are likely to be cost saving compared to petrol and diesel vehicles before 2030. On this basis, the cumulative costs of passenger transport in the UK from 2018 to 2050 may be lower if the end to sales of cars and vans with petrol and diesel engines is brought forward to 2030, compared to 2040. The chart above shows the cumulative costs (vehicles, fuels  – excluding taxation – and infrastructure) of cars and vans given a decision to end sales in 2030 and one to end them in 2040.

The report says: “it would be desirable to aim for 100% of new car and van sales to be electric by the earlier date, but there is uncertainty about the ability of car manufacturers to supply this volume of electric vehicles”.

The report adds that demand for transport can be reduced by encouraging walking, cycling and the use of public transport instead of car travel and by supporting freight operators to make improvements in logistics.

Including ‘further ambition’ measures, the Committee says that all these measures combined can reduce road transport emissions by 98% by 2050, compared to a 1990 baseline.

The Committee says that the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.

Speaking at the report launch at One Birdcage Walk, Westminster, Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said that Britain led the world into an industrial revolution powered by fossil fuels and that it can also lead the world out of fossil fuel dependence. “This is not going to be easy, but it’s a challenge we cannot avoid…and we have to start now.”

The Committee’s report, requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018, finds that:

  • The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include: a supply of low-carbon electricity (which will need to quadruple by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (required throughout the UK’s building stock), electric vehicles (which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier), developing carbon capture and storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen (which are a necessity not an option), stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill, phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, increasing tree planting, and measures to reduce emissions on farms. However, these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.
  • Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050. The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.
  • The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed. Rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050. However, the costs of the transition must be fair, and must be perceived as such by workers and energy bill payers. The Committee recommends that the Treasury reviews how the remaining costs of achieving net- zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.

There are multiple benefits of the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Committee’s report shows. These include benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.

In addition, the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.

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 – we explain how in our new report – 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.”

Notes to editors

  1. A net-zero target would require a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is referred to as ‘net’ as the expectation is that it would be met with some remaining sources of emissions which would need to be offset by removals of COfrom the atmosphere – by growing trees, for example.

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