Imperial College London

An end to UK's climate change contribution within 30 years

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Smoke bellowing out of a power station with a sunset in the background

The UK can stop contributing to global warming within 30 years by setting new ambitious targets, concludes the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The new CCC report, which included input from researchers at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, says that reducing the UK's greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions to net-zero is necessary, affordable and achievable by 2050 .

This target would effectively stop the UK from contributing further to climate change and bring the country in line with its Paris Agreement commitments to drastically curb emissions and pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that climate impacts, including sea level rise, increased heatwaves and depleted crop yields, could be much less severe by remaining within the 1.5°C limit.

If the UK doesn’t ultimately make its fair contribution to the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C, we’ll look back on this report and ask why its advice wasn’t followed. Dr Ajay Gambhir Grantham Institute Research Fellow and report contributor

The CCC's roadmap to reach the new target covers all sectors of the UK, Scottish and Welsh economies, and is achievable with technologies that we already have. Some policies are already in place to reduce the UK's emissions, such as switching to electric cars, building low-carbon housing and investing in carbon dioxide removal technology.

However, the report warns that current policies are not enough, even to achieve the existing target of an 80% ghg reduction, and are also not being delivered. For example, carbon capture and storage technologies, which are crucial to reaching net-zero, are yet to get started in the UK; and nationwide afforestation targets, which promise an extra 20,000 hectares per year, are not being delivered. Work must be done to strengthen commitments, and the delivery of plans must be faster to achieve greater emissions reductions.

Global average temperatures have already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, and the effects can be seen today across the world. To limit further warming, deep reductions in emissions are urgently needed. By aiming for and achieving net-zero, the UK would remain a world leader in this global effort, and through innovation and experience will be able to help other countries reach similarly ambitious targets.

The UK, and the world, has a great deal of work to do, and very little time. Paul Fennell Professor of Clean Energy

One of the key findings of the report is that the overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable, and are in fact comparable with the 2008 estimates for achieving the current target. This is due to the recent rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and solar (photovoltaics). However, the costs of the transition must be managed in a way this is fair to workers and energy bill payers.

The report also highlights the many co-benefits of tackling climate change including better health from improved air quality, an increase in green jobs and an industrial boost, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.

Watch now: How can taking action on climate change make all our lives better?

Comments from Imperial experts

A man looking at the cameraDr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute and report contributor, said:

"The net-zero target looks eminently achievable, so long as the right policies and measures are put in place. If the UK doesn’t ultimately make its fair contribution to the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C, we’ll look back on this report and ask why its advice wasn’t followed."

A person man a suit and tie speaking into a microphoneDr Joeri Rogelj, Lecturer in Climate Change and Environment at the Grantham Institute, said:

"The science is clear on what needs to be done to cap global warming, and the CCC’s net-zero report provides a realistic and fair translation of how the UK can play its role in achieving this challenge. The CCC’s recommendations show realism by spelling out key steps towards achieving a net zero target in the UK – at costs that are manageable and have come down over the past decades thanks to incredible technological innovation.

"Equally important for understanding the realism of a net zero UK is the report’s warning to government that its global climate leadership cannot be taken for granted or achieved by merely paying lip service to ambitious ideas: the UK government is currently off track to meet its even weaker current targets."

A man wearing a suitDr Niall Mac Dowell, Reader in Energy Systems, Said:

"The new advice on the UK aiming at net-zero emissions by 2050 is welcome, and to be applauded.

"Whilst the call for further support for early stage research is greatly welcomed, it is also important to note that all of the relevant technologies and approaches are essentially available today, and as mentioned in the report, what is most important is 'policy stability' – policy flip-flopping is profoundly unhelpful, particularly noting the requirement to progress delivery with far greater urgency.

"If the UK does, indeed, sign up to a legally binding target for net-zero ghg emissions by 2050, it will have recaptured the leadership position which it assumed with the passing of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

"However, in line with the content of the report, efforts to deliver this transition will need to be greatly accelerated, pursuing a broad portfolio of both emissions mitigation options, such as CO2 capture and storage, and greenhouse gas removal options, such as biomass energy with CCS and afforestation."

A woman standing in front of a buildingProfessor Joanna Haigh, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, said:

"Science is clear that stopping climate change means bringing emissions to net zero. And the case for doing that quickly enough to constrain global warming to 1.5ºC was graphically highlighted by last year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which showed that every half degree of additional warming has a serious and measurable impact."

"The Committee on Climate Change shows how the UK can meet the IPCC ambition. We can cut our emissions to net zero, the costs are manageable, and, in many ways, from lower air pollution to restored natural environments, the world will be a better place to live in when we do so."

A man wearing a suit and tieProfessor Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering, said:

"The report passes a very strong message that the UK should take a lead on delivering zero carbon emissions by 2050. This would build on our strong track record in enshrining our decarbonisation targets in law and bring us on schedule to meeting existing targets. Moreover, it provides good evidence that this is achievable using currently known technologies at an affordable cost (1-2% GDP) which is no higher than the cost of existing commitments.

"Key elements of the delivery will be decarbonisation of industrial processes, domestic heating and, as far as possible, transport, with CCS – an 'essential' (not optional) technology to help us meet the target in all three sectors, providing carbon-free hydrogen for both heating and vehicles. It is also essential to offset the most difficult to decarbonise sector, aviation, using Bioenergy with CCS – its deployment at scale by the mid-2020s is a necessity to enable enough capacity as we approach 2050.

“The main role of government will be to provide an effective policy framework and to work with companies to devise new business models to enable public-private partnerships to deliver a decarbonised economy. Financial incentives to business and encouraging, or even requiring the public to buy or use low-carbon products will help make this happen.

"Much of this is already underway, even if early days, but to make this a top priority for all stakeholders an integrated approach must be taken by the government with far greater urgency than in the past. Action on many fronts in the next five years will be crucial for ensuring that the 2050 target can be met; if there are opportunities to deliver earlier, we should grasp them."

A man in a white lab coat and goggles speaks to a womanProfessor Paul Fennell, Professor of Clean Energy, said:

"The key message to me, as a researcher in CCS, is the statement in the report that 'CCS is a necessity, not an option'. The ongoing and vital work to which Imperial is contributing, both as part of the UK CCS Research Centre and in other projects funded by UK research councils, industry and the EU, will be critical for the ability of the UK to hit its target of full decarbonisation by 2050. The UK, and the world, has a great deal of work to do, and very little time."


Headshot of Robert GrossDr Robert Gross, Director, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, said:

"This is a marathon not a sprint. It is not unreasonable to describe what is needed as a war footing. But we need to stay on war footing over several decades. Over the next 3 decades we need to replace our cars, boilers, power stations and many industrial processes – together with the infrastructures that serve them. This is perfectly possible but the pace and scale of the change is unprecedented. In fact it is more like running several marathons at a sprint.

"It is easier to achieve net zero if we eat less meat, fly less and drive less. These are the things an individual can do easily now. But we also need to accept changes to our homes and cars, and make the investment needed as a society to transform the energy system."

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Ms Abbie Stone

Ms Abbie Stone
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 8456
Email: a.stone@imperial.ac.uk

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Pollution, Strategy-collaboration, Climate-change, Environment, Strategy-decision-makers, Strategy-multidisciplinary-research, Energy
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