THE UK will pledge to end its contribution to climate change by 2050, according to new plans laid out by the Prime Minister on Wednesday. The target date for “net zero” emissions is the first set by a leading economy, and is a response to growing calls for action to tackle the climate emergency from faith groups, the Extinction Rebellion protesters (News, 18 April), and striking schoolchildren led by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg (News, 22 March).
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, who is the Church of England lead on environmental affairs, welcomed the news. “Christians and people of all faiths have long called for action on climate change to both preserve the natural world on which we all rely, and to protect God’s creation for generations to come.
“The impacts of climate change affect all of us, but the world’s poorest are most vulnerable to extreme weather events and the least able to cope with these impacts. This makes it imperative for us, as Christians, to push for action to deal with these threats. This is a moral issue, not one to be solely decided on how much it will cost.
“Ours is the first generation to know truly the full scale of the risks posed by climate change, and may be the last to be able to do anything meaningful about it. That is why committing to end our contribution to climate change here in the UK is so important.”
The net-zero target was recommended by the Government’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, and has the backing of nine of the ten candidates campaigning to be the next leader of the Conservative Party; only Esther McVey opposes it.
Mrs May announced that, as part of the plans, a new Youth Steering Group would be created, so that, for the first time, young people would be able to shape the UK’s climate policy.
“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children,” she said. “This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.”
Some of the changes that will need to be enacted to ensure the UK meets this net-zero commitment will be the phasing out of fossil fuels from the energy mix; greater energy-efficiency measures, including better insulated homes; and the decarbonisation of transport, agriculture, and industry.
The president of the National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters, has pledged that her sector will be net zero by 2040. The target also has the support of the Confederation of British Industry.
The director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Richard Black, who guest-edited the Church Times environment issue (12 October 2018), said: “This is probably the most important UK move on climate change since Parliament brought in the Climate Change Act more than a decade ago.
“By becoming the first major nation to set a net-zero target in national legislation, ahead of the likes of France and Germany, it restores the UK to a position of international leadership with a target that’s fully in line with science, and will deliver the UK’s fair share of keeping global warming below the ‘safe’ level of 1.5º Celsius.
“It brings the clarity that business has been asking for, enabling companies to make rational investment decisions and so make the clean energy transition as efficient as possible.
“And it’s going to act as a massive spur to the UK’s bid to host the UN climate summit in 2020, because the UK can now legitimately say that it has done what all governments will have to soon: committing to ending its contribution to climate change.”
Some groups have criticised the Government for not going far enough, and have called for an earlier date. The chair of Green Christian, Paul Bodenham, said that the UK should be aiming to reach net zero within six years: “If the UK is serious about international leadership, we must acknowledge the debt our country owes to poorer nations and to the young and unborn.
“The profound insecurity they now face is mainly due to the privilege, power, and indifference of today’s industrialised societies, of which the UK has the longest history of all.”
Other groups criticised the Government’s inclusion of international carbon credits as part of the net-zero target, which may allow for some of the carbon reduction to be outsourced to developing countries, slowing the transformation of the UK economy.
The head of global policy at Christian Aid, Dr Alison Doig, said: “The Climate Change Committee advised the Government not to include any international offsets in their net-zero calculations; so it’s disappointing to see the Government keeping this option open.
“It is vital that the Government ensures real emissions reductions are made within the UK, and not merely outsourced internationally through dodgy loopholes.”
More than 10,000 people are expected in Westminster to speak to their MP about climate change as part of the Time Is Now mass lobby of Parliament on 26 June, organised by the Climate Coalition.