The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has launched what it describes as the world’s first ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation, with CCC chairman Lord Deben describing it as “a key to the future”.
Last year, the UK became the first major economy to make net zero emissions law. In its new landmark 1,000-page report, the UK’s independent adviser on tackling climate change sets out the path to that goal over the next three decades, including the first ever detailed assessment of the changes that will result – and the key milestones that must be met.
The Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) charts the decisive move to zero carbon for the UK. The CCC shows that polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels – a big step-up in ambition. Just 18 months ago this was the UK’s 2050 goal.
To deliver this, say the CCC, a major investment programme across the country must be delivered, in large measure by the private sector. That investment will also be the key to the UK’s economic recovery in the next decade. In many areas, this gives people real savings, as the nation uses fewer resources and adopts cleaner, more-efficient technologies, like electric cars, to replace their fossil-fuelled predecessors.
The CCC finds that these savings substantially reduce the cost of net zero compared with previous assessments: now down to less than 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years. This is thanks, not only to the falling cost of offshore wind, but also a range of new low cost, low-carbon solutions in every sector.
Lord Deben, Climate Change Committee chairman, said: “The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low carbon business. It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable. This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.”
“As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump start the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as president of the next UN climate talks.”
The CCC’s message to government is clear – the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change. By the early 2030s, every new car and van, and every replacement boiler must be zero carbon; by 2035, all UK electricity production will be zero carbon. Modern low-carbon industries will grow; producing hydrogen; capturing carbon; creating new woodlands; renovating and decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes. These provide hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the UK.
The CCC concludes that these changes are feasible and affordable, but only if they are led by decisive action from government now. And the process must also be fair and just – the report includes important new insights into how the costs and the benefits of net zero can be shared more evenly. These are fundamentally desirable goals, bringing multiple wider benefits including better health, and an improved natural environment.
With bold new climate commitments from China and soon, the US, over half of global greenhouse emissions will shortly be covered by net zero targets. This has brought the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach. If the CCC’s recommendations are adopted by ministers next year, the Sixth Carbon Budget will position the UK as a true global climate leader, as it prepares to host heads of state for the next major climate summit in Glasgow.
The CCC says the Sixth Carbon Budget can be met through four key steps:
1. Take up of low-carbon solutions. People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
2. Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies. UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the prime minister’s promised 40 GW in 2030 to 100 GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
3. Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities. The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and wellbeing.
4. Land and greenhouse gas removals. There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.
Lord Deben said: “This is a key to the future as far as we are concerned. The alternative not to do it is hugely more expensive and means, in a sense, that we would be investing in the past and not in the future. I don’t underestimate for one moment the challenge that this is, nor the ambition which it puts forward. But what this report does is to give the nation the way to do it. We have decided we have to do it, here is how we do it.”
Under the UK Climate Change Act, the UK must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The act also requires the government to set a new carbon budget every five years, following the advice of the Climate Change Committee. The Sixth Carbon Budget must be legislated by June 2021.