Committee on Climate Change report calls for UK ‘net zero’ emissions target

2 May 2019

Power generated from renewable energy sources such as solar panels is needed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions

The Committee on Climate Change says we need more renewable energy such as solar power to reach net zero

The UK government must set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 'net zero' by 2050, according to a historic Committee on Climate Change report.

The independent government advisers say ministers need to set the goal to eliminate the UK's contribution to climate change. UK faith leaders have backed this call for a net zero target.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are driving global temperature rises and making storms, floods and heatwaves more frequent and severe, hitting poor communities.

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What does a 'net zero' target mean?

A net zero target would mean that emissions from cars, planes, buildings and farms would have to be rapidly and urgently reduced. 

Climate change emissions could not exceed the amount that could be removed from the air using techniques such as planting more trees – tools which Pope Francis has called the “lungs of our planet”. 

A ‘step closer’ to avoiding disaster for world’s poorest people

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, said:

“The Committee’s report brings us a step closer to the net zero target we need if we’re to avoid temperature rises exceeding the 1.5C level which will spell disaster for the world’s poorest communities."

You can ask your MP to support a net zero target to protect poor communities from climate change by joining us in London on Wednesday 26 June.

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The UN’s science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported in 2018 that all countries must bring emissions down to zero by the middle of the century to avoid global temperatures rising 1.5C above levels seen before the industrial age.

Allowing temperatures to go beyond this level, including to 2C of warming, would jeopardise food and water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.

“The Committee’s report brings us a step closer to the net zero target we need if we’re to avoid temperature rises exceeding the 1.5C level which will spell disaster for the world’s poorest communities."

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD

Temperature rises above 1.5C would also increase the risk of devastating storms and floods like the cyclones which have hit Mozambique in recent weeks and lead to more frequent extreme heatwaves like that experienced in the UK and around the world in summer 2018.

Neil Thorns said:

“Now it’s up to the government to respond to the voices of voters up and down the country who expect ministers to urgently put the target in legislation and make it a reality with the benefits this will bring to our economy, our health and our homes.”

What is the current UK climate change target?

The government is currently required by law to ensure emissions are 80% lower by 2050 than they were in 1990.

This target was set by parliament in the Climate Change Act 2008 - a law which was regarded as world-leading at the time but which many argue needs to be made more ambitious in light of the latest science.

Scientists now say that emissions must be reduced further and more quickly than the goal set in 2008 in order to keep temperature rises below the dangerous 1.5C threshold which world leaders committed to meet in the Paris Agreement.

The cost of solar and wind power has also plummeted faster than was anticipated in 2008, with renewable energy generating one-third of the UK’s electricity last year.

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How can we reduce emissions to net zero?

Cutting emissions to zero will require:

  • generating more electricity from renewable energy
  • moving from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles
  • better-insulating homes
  • tree planting
  • a reduction in air travel
  • reduced meat consumption.

As well as helping to avoid dangerous temperature rises, this will lead to cleaner air, make homes warmer and help to create jobs.

Bishop John Arnold, lead bishop on environmental issues for the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said:

“This is an ambitious target which will be welcomed by the thousands of Catholics in this country who have responded to Pope Francis’s call for us to protect our common home.

“In achieving this target, we must all play our part, and I’m proud that the Catholic community has taken a leading role in showing what can be achieved. Thousands of our churches are running on renewable energy and schools and parishes in dioceses around the country have committed to living simply and sustainably.

“We look forward to seeing the government embracing its role in delivering this agenda urgently and enthusiastically. Pope Francis has asked why any leader would want ‘to be remembered for the inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so’. Those who think that this is an issue which can be left for another day should ask themselves this question.

“The report represents a welcome recognition that as a country we must be a good ‘global’ neighbour and must think about the millions of our brothers and sisters around the world who already face danger and suffering, and the millions more who will increasingly be affected by climate change.”

UK can be global leader on climate change

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong from the Archdiocese of Suva in Fiji – a country vulnerable to climate change – said he welcomed “the international leadership shown by the Committee on Climate Change with these recommendations”.

The Archbishop said:

“With its historic emissions and size of its economy, this is a hugely important global step by the UK and one I hope similar countries will replicate.”

Neil Thorns added:

"The government has the opportunity to lead the world by presenting a serious and credible roadmap for how a major industrialised economy can play its part in halting climate change, but it needs to do this in the coming months. It mustn’t delay.”

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