Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

Britain must cut greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050, report says

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said the scale of the transformation is enormous but political support is wide

Climate change activists from the Extinction Rebellion protest at the Parliament Square in London, Britain May 1, 2019. Reuters
Climate change activists from the Extinction Rebellion protest at the Parliament Square in London, Britain May 1, 2019. Reuters

UK government advisers said Thursday the country must immediately set a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, triggering a change that is both desirable and economically viable.

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) launched a report detailing the roadmap to achieving the goal, in which it emphasises that the scale of the transformation is enormous but political support for such actions is wide.

The report was released a day after the UK became the first country to declare a "climate emergency". MPs approved on Wednesday a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency. This proposal, which does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote.

According to the CCC roadmap, clean power generation must quadruple by 2050, which means more offshore windfarms. The cheapest option, onshore windfarms, is not viable in the country due to a bar on onshore windfarm subsidies.

Homes heated by natural gas will have to disappear, and the CCC said all homes should be connected to the gas grid after 2025. Hydrogen, if it can be produced cleanly at scale, could be an alternative to natural gas.

A 20 per cut in beef, lamb and dairy consumption in 2050 – far lower than suggested in other studies – would be sufficient to meet the target.

A fifth of all farmland will have been converted to tree planting and growing biofuel crops. New trees are the simplest solution but tree planting must triple from today’s rate, the CCC said.

Activity in the North Sea should also switch from pumping up carbon in oil and gas to piping down CO2 for burial.

The report comes as environmental organisation are decrying plans by the government to expand Heathrow airport – the UK’s biggest polluter – by building a third runway.

Flying is included in the CCC’s recommendations, which say there could be a limited expansion of aviation if airlines can cut their emissions per flight, potentially with electric planes for short-haul flights.

Achieving a ‘net-zero’ target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement, a pact which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015 to curb dramatically the polluting gases that cause climate change.

Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are increasingly apparent. Pledges to reduce emissions by the countries of the world in the past ten years have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4°C by the end of the century to around 3°C.

At the current rate of emissions, the world will reach 1.5°C warming by between 2030 and 2052.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sponsored by the UN published in October 2018 a damning report warning of extreme risks to human well-being, ecosystems and sustainable development should the temperature rise exceed 1.5°C.

Limiting warming to 1.5ºC would require an unprecedented response, according to the report.

Updated: May 2, 2019 12:23 PM

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