Environmentalist and sustainability expert Fiona Hesselden comments on the UK government’s new plan to tackle climate change with gas emissions to be cut to almost zero by 2050.
“Teresa May announced this week that the government would revise its target for reducing climate change emissions up from 80% to 100% net emissions by 2050. Should this proposal go through parliament, the UK will be the first country to enshrine this target in law.
So far, so good you may think. And yes, it is welcome news that the government is being more ambitious. However, there are a number of caveats that need to be unpicked.
First, the government has stated that it plans to retain the use of international carbon credits, which the government’s own advisory Committee on Climate Change has advised against. This allows us to pay to ‘offset’ our use of carbon and as such undermines the net zero commitment.
Secondly, the proposal has a five-year review built into it; if other countries are not taking similar action, the target could be scrapped after five years. Now, you may think this is perfectly reasonable from a fair competition perspective. But the moral imperative remains: a habitable planet and a secure future for our children and our children’s children as well as the wider living world – on which we rely utterly. If we are going to show leadership as a country, then we need to stick to our guns and lead, not blur the message with cautionary caveats.
Third, as Extinction Rebellion and others have so rightly pointed out, 2050 may be just too late. The advisory Committee on Climate Change also stated that should others emulate the UK, there was a ‘50-50 chance of staying below the recommended 1.5C temperature rise by 2100’. That’s still only 50-50. I’m not sure about you, but I’d like better odds than that.
There remains now an urgent need to bring other policies in line; fracking needs to be stopped in the UK, now; the third runway at Heathrow (always controversial) must be cancelled and building regulations must be tightened substantially to ensure new homes and other structures are properly insulated.
Other areas of significant emissions will require changes in taxation structures to encourage greener behaviours; reducing transport emissions for example (particularly from planes) by getting rid of the VAT exemption on aviation kerosene; exploring fiscal incentives to promote a reduction in meat eating…
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is quoted as saying this commitment may potentially cost the country £1 trillion by 2050. However, this figure does not take into account the cost of dealing with the impact of climate change – from air quality costs to the NHS, increase in food prices to dealing with flooding and other extreme weather episodes. To put this into context, Goldman Sachs says Brexit has cost the UK economy 2.4% of its GDP, based on a comparison with its growth before the 2016 referendum. That’s £600 million a week.
This announcement needs to be just the beginning. A welcome start, but well, just not ambitious enough.”
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