Working towards a sustainable environment

A bill which would commit the UK Government to reducing national carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 will be put to Parliament next Tuesday (11 June), the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee has confirmed today (7 June)

The CCC's advice on legislating for net-zero by 2050, requested by the Government after the IPCC report last autumn, was published on 2 May

The CCC’s advice on legislating for net-zero by 2050, requested by the Government after the IPCC report last autumn, was published on 2 May

Developed in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on legislating for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, which was published last month, the new bill will be introduced to the House by BEIS Committee Chair Rachel Reeves MP.

The specifics of the bill are yet to be revealed, but the framework is broadly expected to echo the measures proposed by the CCC. These include bringing the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales forward to 2035; quadrupling the UK’s renewable energy generation capacity; rewilding 20,000 hectares of land annually and deploying carbon capture and storage (CCS) at scale.

The BEIS Committee has confirmed that the bill would also include international aviation and shipping. Under the existing Climate Change Act, the UK currently excludes international aviation and certain types of international maritime activity from its overall carbon footprint calculations – a caveat which will be removed by an alteration of the Act if the bill is passed.

Reeves said the aim of the bill is to “bring home to the Government the urgent need to commit to the net-zero 2050 target and give the UK the best possible chance of meeting this challenge.”

“In the UK we have a golden opportunity to deliver environmental benefits, new jobs, and sustainable green industries – but this won’t happen without a coordinated, cross-departmental effort from Government and a cast-iron commitment to achieving a net-zero target,” she said.

“In the final days of her premiership, Theresa May should take this opportunity to take the crucial next step to ending the UK’s contribution to global warming and set out that the whole of Government is committed to achieving net zero by 2050.” 

The bill has already received verbal backing from MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

Political shifts

The news from the BEIS Committee comes just hours after May stepped down as Conservative Party leader – a move she confirmed late last month after repeatedly failing to gain support for her Brexit Withdrawal agreement.

She will remain Prime Minister until her successor is chosen, with most reports indicating that she will back the BEIS Committee’s bill, along with the majority of MPs, before being replaced. 

Nonetheless, comments made by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond this week have cast doubts over whether there really is top-level Tory support for legislating for net-zero. Hammond claimed that spending cuts for schools, hospitals and the police force would be needed to fund total decarbonisation of the UK economy, which he price estimated at £1trn.

Both the CCC and No 10 have refuted Hammond’s calculations. The CCC’s advice prices the cost of reaching net-zero within the same cost envelope of achieving the 80% carbon emissions reduction which the UK is currently bound to under the Climate Change Act, at between 1-2% of GDP in 2050.  

Green campaign groups have also been quick to take umbrage at Hammond’s sentiments, emphasising the fact that failure to act on climate change is also likely to result in large costs in the form of stranded assets, resource scarcity, reduced competitiveness and increased social and healthcare spending.

WWF’s chief executive Tanya Steel, for example, said the Government should know by now “how to tackle the climate and environment crisis, and do so in a way that leaves the UK public with greater economic security, not less”.

“The investments this requires will not only give future generations security, but in the process create jobs from new, clean industries,” Steele said. “What’s more, this investment will cost less than dealing with a climate breakdown – the reality if we fail to act.”

Sarah George