In June 2019, the UK Parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100 per cent by 2050.
This ground-breaking legislation saw the UK become the first major economy to commit to a ‘net zero’ target. The 2050 commitment was the outcome of a cross-party parliamentary initiative to lead the global effort to keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees on pre-industrial levels.
Following the passage of the 2050 target, the Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group (NZ APPG) was created with the mission to embed net zero solutions and promote Government action to meet the new legally binding obligation. The APPG brings together Parliamentarians, academics and business to work together to create a net zero pathway.
The UK has made significant progress on decarbonisation, reducing emissions by 40 per cent since 1990. Most of the reductions have been achieved through dramatic changes to energy supply. However some sectors, including energy efficiency, the built environment and transport, have stalled through lack of strategic planning and investment, failed policy interventions and a status quo approach to addressing the challenges.
Reducing carbon emissions is critical to staving off the worst impacts of climate change and keeping warming below the critical 1.5 degree threshold. These reductions must be achieved in a strategic manner, according to the UK’s Climate Change Committee, the independent body established under the Climate Change Act to advise UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on emissions reduction progress.
Carbon reductions will improve quality of life
The health of the planet directly impacts personal health and wellbeing. As societies grapple with the breadth of changes required to tackle climate change, it is clear that the solutions will bring welcome knock-on effects that improve quality of life.
The air will be cleaner, homes will be healthier, diets will be better and active travel translates to more walking, cycling and physical exercise. Improvements to industrial processes and greater regulatory oversight will contribute to cleaner air, can address contaminated water supplies, unhealthy beaches and further protect the natural environment.
The government must set out a coherent, long-term and system-wide vision which goes further faster, promotes system resilience and adaptation, and capitalises on synergies and interdependencies between different sectors.
The challenge to achieve the 2050 mandate is formidable, requiring strong leadership to fill the ‘policy gap’ identified in the Climate Change Committee’s June 2020 report. Achieving the UK’s Net Zero target will require unprecedented investment in low and zero-carbon infrastructure and far-reaching workforce reskilling and levelling up.
Conflicting messages on travel emissions
One of the biggest challenges is to set a trajectory and stick to it. The UK is currently not on target to meet the next set of emissions reductions and each milestone becomes more difficult, leaving the so-called ‘hard to abate sectors’ to continue at a pace. Air travel is one of the hard to abate sectors and is pushed to the back of priorities. This point was made clear in the Chancellor’s recent budget, where he announced a cut to Air Passenger Duty for some domestic flights, sending conflicting messages about the critical need to reduce our travel emissions.
The key to achieving UK targets is government and industry working together to ensure enabling policy frameworks are in place that deliver the technological solutions, long-term investment and sustained skill base we need.
The Covid-19 recovery could serve as a springboard for delivering net zero through building back better and beneficial behavioural changes, noting that green projects deliver high short-term returns, long-term cost savings and ‘shovel-ready’ job opportunities.
Progress towards net zero presents a unique opportunity to grow the economy and create jobs, especially in some of the economically disadvantaged regions of the UK. In order to achieve the scale of change required the UK government and industry must think and act strategically, making best use of the information and technologies we have to jump-start progress in priority areas; including on energy efficiency, low-emissions heating, renewable energy, cycle-lanes and net zero hydrogen. Each of these areas has an immediate and direct impact on the health of communities and individuals.
Progress depends not only on governments and industry – civic engagement, communities and relevant groups are critical to building long-term, society-wide decarbonisation. While technological uncertainties remain, it is imperative that change must come now.
As the COP26 negotiations finalised and the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed by the 197 participating nations, the success of the conference has been characterised as the ‘start of a breakthrough’. Undoubtedly much progress was made on deforestation, coal, net zero targets and clean energy. However, many nations feel the conference failed to garner the commitments necessary to achieve the pace of change required to keep the planet to 1.5 degrees.
With much work ahead the Net Zero APPG is committed to working closely with government, academics, businesses and civil society to push for policy change, investment and a long-term strategic approach to meet our obligations, protect the health of the planet and ensure the wellbeing of its inhabitants.
Alex Sobel MP is Chair of the Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group:
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