Necessary, feasible and cost effective”. That’s what the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says about achieving net zero UK greenhouse gas emissions in its new all-encompassing report.

The CCC is an independent, statutory body, set up in 2008 as part of the Climate Change Act to advise the UK government on emissions targets. Today it has released a new report which provides in depth analysis and recommendations on achieving a net zero target for UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The full 276 page report is available on the CCC’s website, but here is our summary of the key things you need to know.

What does ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions mean?

The 2008 Climate Change Act took emissions in 1990 as a benchmark, and this report looks at achieving a 100% reduction from those levels. This is a more affirmative goal than the 80% target set in the original act, and includes all greenhouse gases such as methane, as well as carbon — a question the government put to the CCC for response in this report and which is answered emphatically.

Necessary, feasible and cost effective

This is how the CCC describes the target. Necessary, to halt the UK’s contribution to rising global temperatures and to meet the country’s obligations in the Paris Climate agreement. Feasible, with the tried and tested technologies we have available today. And cost effective, as many of those technologies have fallen in cost since 2008, the 100% target can be achieved within a similar cost to predicted previously.

Lights glowing in a forest.

Those who say the UK’s actions no longer matter are wrong

Why the UK? How do we benefit?

Some conversations about climate action are reduced to ‘but what about them?’.  A common example being ‘why should we reduce our emissions when China is the biggest globally?’

As Chairman of the CCC Lord Deben states in the report’s foreword, “those who say the UK’s actions no longer matter are wrong.” Despite UK emissions now constituting a small proportion of the global total, we are a very significant polluter historically, and “every tonne of carbon counts, wherever it is emitted.”

Necessary, feasible and cost effective

The report also takes pains to emphasise the economic opportunities of clean growth, and the societal and health benefits of cleaner air, more active lifestyles and better diets that come as part and parcel of a greener UK. Its recommendations on afforestation — 20,000 hectares of trees per year, increasing to 27,000 in 2025 — would help create a literally greener country.

Does the target differ in different parts of the UK?

The CCC has made differing recommendations for Scotland and Wales’ governments, in addition to the UK as a whole. Scotland’s is more ambitious — net zero by 2045. This is owing to Scotland’s comparatively high proportion of land mass per individual and opportunity for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Whilst Wales’ recommended target is lower; 95% by 2050, due to the country’s agriculture and low potential for CCS.

What is carbon capture and storage?

As mentioned, the report heavily emphasises that all technologies it recommends are available today, but carbon capture and storage (CCS) is amongst the least tried and tested, and it is referred to regularly throughout. CCS is the capturing of carbon from some forms electricity generation or industrial processes, or even directly out of the air, in order to lock it out of the atmosphere. 

CCS has some contentiousness attached to it as it can sound a little like a ‘get out of jail free’ card for tackling carbon emissions, when realistically the scale it would need to implemented to have real effect, at least in isolation, is unfeasible. It is not positioned to be a ‘catch all’ solution by the CCC, but the report does state that it is necessary. And whilst 43 projects in this area are taking place worldwide, the UK has yet to make a start.

What about choosing clean power and electricity generation?

Whilst rightly acknowledging the need for efficiency first and foremost as a grounding for extensive electrification of systems like transport, this is the one area the report is lacking. Emphasis is placed on large scale renewables — huge investment in offshore wind, in particular, whilst ‘low carbon’ (meaning nuclear) still has a place in the recommendations made. It misses the potential of people power and small-scale generation.

Not only is choosing clean power supply not listed as a personal action — one we know has one of the biggest impacts an individuals can make — but the report does not talk about self-generation. An oversight in our view.  

Electric vehicles

As well as recommending that individuals choose electric for their car purchase, the report has some altered recommendations for the government’s targets. It states that the 2040 cut off for sale of petrol and diesel cars is too far off, and should be brought forward to 2035. 

Heat and hydrogen

Justly, given the majority of the average domestic household’s carbon footprint comes from heating, a great deal of attention is spent in the report on addressing this problem. The report does not fall on the side of any solution, but does recommend large scale comprehensive trials as an urgent first step in developing a serious plan. Bioenergy, or green gas, electrification and hydrogen are all technologies which are recommended to test.

Hydrogen in particular is positioned as having great potential in other areas as well as heat, such as powering long distance heavy goods vehicles and ships. The report states we require a new hydrogen production industry comparable in capacity to the current fleet of gas-fired power stations we have in the UK. 

every tonne of carbon counts, wherever it is emitted

What would all this achieve?

The CCC believes that net zero greenhouse gases by 2050 is “the highest possible ambition”, and not credible to reach earlier. What it constitutes is a target that goes beyond the reduction needed globally to hold original expected rise of 2ºC. If it were to be replicated globally and done so alongside with ambitious near-term reductions in emissions, it would deliver a greater than 50% chance of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5ºC.

What can you do now?

The report is intended as advice to government, but has a lot to say on the power of the individual, and it can empower you too. If you want to ensure your MP pays attention, use to tell them so.

If you agree with our view on what the report lacks, feel free to include our CEO and Founder Juliet Davenport’s comments: “This report has a big blind spot. Whilst acknowledging the necessity to decarbonise electricity production, it completely misses the potential of small-scale generation, focusing only on the big guys and big power stations. 

“The total capacity of rooftop scale solar in the UK is already greater than our largest single power station. We believe there is a big missed opportunity in this report to consider a localised grid where people generate, store and share their own energy.

 The report rightly states that the costs of a net zero emissions target must be levelled fairly, and perceived as such. To do so, we need to build a radically new energy system which isn’t held back by existing infrastructure and big power producers, but where consumers are at the heart.”