Official Advisors Say that Ending UK’s Carbon Emissions is Affordable

According to the UK government’s advisors on climate change the world’s first detailed route map for ending the UK’s use of fossil fuels is both “ambitious and affordable” reports the Guardian.

This route map sets out a cleaner, greener future that would see half of the cars on the road being electric by 2030 and 10,000 giant wind turbines in the North sea. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) report found that the future reductions in cost from no longer having to buy oil and gas almost offsets the £50bn a year investment needed in low carbon power, transport, and home heating across the next three decades.

Jonathan Marshall, at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said:

“These stretching targets will see climate policies increasingly overlap with everyday life, bringing changes in the cars we drive and how we heat our homes. The overwhelming backing among the British public for climate action means that these measures are likely to be popular and well supported, as long as well-thought policies are used to bring about change.”

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Despite the prime minister, Boris Johnson’s recently announced green industrial revolution plan, the CCC have said that further action will be needed from the government to set the UK on the path to ending emissions by 2050. The world looks on as the UK prepares to host a critical UN summit to tackle the climate crisis next November as the UK’s leadership is considered vital for success.

The CCC route map predicts that people’s energy bills will remain level before dropping after 2030 as cheap renewable energy expands. The CCC say that drivers will save money using electric cars but the phasing out of gas boilers will mean that some households will need government help to install more expensive low-carbon heating systems.

The CCC’s plan anticipates that air travel will stay near current levels and meat eating which has already fallen being reduced by just 20% by 2030. The CCC have said that the changes in how people live “need not entail sacrifices”. They believe mixed woodlands should be planted by 2035, covering an area three times the size of Greater London, capturing CO2 and providing new green spaces.

The cost of offshore wind power has fallen fast in recent years and the CCC sees it as the “backbone of the whole UK energy system” with all electricity being renewable or nuclear by 2035. The UK looks set to become an electric nation with twice the current amount of power being generated by 2050, but with hydrogen expanding to fuel heavy industry and transport and warm some homes.

As required by law the CCC has laid out a new carbon budget for the UK by 2035. The CCC says that the UK for less than 1% of national wealth can reduce 78% of emissions by 2035 compared with 1990 levels, which is equivalent to cutting two-thirds of today’s emissions. Advancing carbon cuts by 15 years in comparison to plans in 2018 reflects falling green costs.

BBC News said:

“CCC members say the targets proposed for the UK’s ‘carbon budget’ period of 2033-2035 are definitely achievable, so long as the government moves urgently.”

The Financial Times reports:

“The advice of the CCC is not legally binding but has exerted a strong influence on the decisions of the UK government, which has always followed its advice when setting the five-year ‘carbon budgets’ required under the Climate Change Act. Emissions will have to fall at a faster pace in the next 30 years than the UK has achieved in the past three decades”.

The newspaper went on to report that CCC chief executive Chris Stark said:

“It’s ambitious. It’s very challenging. It’s also, we think, entirely feasible.”

Lord Deben, chair of the CCC said:

“Getting to net zero emissions is ambitious, realistic and affordable. The price is manifestly reasonable. It will be the private sector that will do much of the investment, but it will be the government that sets the tone. It now has to set out in detail the steps required. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, this is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery.”

Lord Deben would like to see the costs of the transition distributed fairly across society. Up to now the government has accepted all previous carbon budgets proposed by the CCC and has until June to accept this new one.

Interestingly, analysis by the CCC has found that it is cheaper to switch to electric cars and vans than to continue with petrol and diesel vehicles.  This amazing new insight has massive implications for the overall cost of achieving net zero.

The CCC have said that the annual net cost across the 30 years to 2050 is £10bn, or about 0.5% of GDP. This does not take into account the benefits of new jobs or better health as air pollution and damp cold homes are reduced. It is believed that today, poor housing alone costs the NHS £1.5bn a year.

CCC chief executive Chris Stark said:

“It’s now clear that, at worst, we’ve got a very small cost overall in order to unlock those very big benefits of tackling climate change.”

Alison Doig at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said that the report shows that taking bold action makes sense for jobs and prosperity as well as keeping the UK a prominent leader of an international zero carbon revolution. She says that this is the government’s chance to show how serious it is about delivering the goals of the Paris agreement.

Clara Goldsmith, at the Climate Coalition, said:

“The government must accept this advice and unleash a decade of ambitious action. There is no downside to embracing this plan. It can transform our society and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs.”

There’s no doubt that the major expansion of both renewable energy and electric cars will be challenging. Prof Rob Gross, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said the CCC’s report is extremely important highlighting as it does the very real challenges facing the UK.

He said:

“The speed with which we would need to get charging stations sorted out is a real challenge, if we are to avoid alienating motorists.”

Doug Parr, at Greenpeace UK has said that despite the CCC having set out a route map to net zero that the government will need to do a great deal more over this parliament to reach it. He thinks that although progress has been made recently, there is still a huge gap between the UK’s targets over the next decade and the action required to meet them.

CCC chief executive, Chris Stark has emphasised the importance of implementing the actions needed to reach the net zero emissions target as the climate crisis is still worsening. He has said that with global CO2 emissions and temperature on an upward trend “We are in a bad place” but that 2021 would be a big year for action in the UK with government strategies due for heat and buildings, food, aviation, hydrogen and trees and peat bogs.