Carbon neutrality to avoid climate chaos

Every degree matters

Global temperature increasesAlready there has been global heating of 1.2°C, with an increase in extreme weather events and greater temperature rises at the poles. Current world policies could lead to temperature increases of 3°C or more by the end of the century. The greater the global heating, the greater the damage and disruption that will be caused to our world, our economies and our lives.

Greenhouse gases that cause climate change accumulate in the atmosphere, so the sooner we reduce and stop the emissions the better, and the less the risks we take with our future. Levels will only reduce when we stop adding to them and then, depending on the gas, take from decades to thousands of years to be absorbed elsewhere.

The UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget

In December 2020, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change published the sixth carbon budget on limits for the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions during 2033-37, including a report on policy changes needed during the 2020s. The committee is a statutory body advising government. Their carbon budget was adopted by the Government in April 2021, although not a full set of actions to achieve it.

The reduction in emissions (adopted) and key actions required (not fully adopted) are shown in the following charts.

Recommended path

Action 4 areas

This pathway requires a 78% reduction in UK territorial emissions between 1990 and 2035, which the Committee on Climate Change says can be met through four key steps:

  1. Take up of low-carbon solutions. People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
  2. Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies. UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
  3. Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities. The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
  4. Land and greenhouse gas removals. There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.

We now need to see if the Governmnet introduces policies to implement these steps.

Even if they do, concerns remain. The Government’s plans so far include more wind power, electric vehicles, public transport, cycling and walking, more energy efficient buildings, restoring nature and more green jobs. But it is doubtful these policies will go far enough. The Government is also relying on unproven and expensive technologies, such as more nuclear power, zero-emission planes and carbon capture, which may be undeliverable at sufficient scale. The Government is silent on necessary changes to our diet, for better health and climate, and reducing the growth in flying. And it lacks ambition and is failing already in improving the energy efficiency of existing and future buildings.

The Government’s policy mix is being developed and implemented too slowly, and it is far from guaranteeing a net zero future.

The Zero Carbon Britain proposals from the Centre for Alternative Technology offer a safer, better and more certain path for carbon neutrality. These are covered below and summarised in the infographic at the end of the page and they are reflected in policies in the Green Party’s Green New Deal.

Zero Carbon Britain and Net Zero Reports and Somerset Strategies

In August 2019, I prepared a paper on Achieving Carbon Neutrality or Net Zero for the Councils’ climate emergency working groups. This noted key elements of the Zero Carbon Britain report prepared by the Centre for Alternative Technology and summarised the official Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero report, published in May 2019. These reports then provided ideas and analysis on where we should be heading for a carbon neutral future. They were guides to the scale of action required and helped with checking that the right steps are being taken along the way.

Zero Carbon Britain was updated in December 2019 – see: Executive Summary and Full Report.

Infographics on the two scenarios are shown below. There is more in my news post and in a helpful summary and comparison of the Zero Carbon Britain and Net Zero scenarios.

In October 2020, I prepared a Green Climate Strategy for Somerset.

Somerset Climate Action Network

Somerset Climate Action Network, set-up by local groups and campaigners, published the following papers to identify potential actions and areas of influence for Somerset local authorities.

  •  The Somerset 2030 Carbon Neutral Target – Local Authority Actions (July 2019)

•  Towards a Carbon Neutral Somerset – Recommendations (April 2020)

  •  Towards a Carbon Neutral Somerset – Evidence Base (May 2020)

Net Zero and Zero Carbon Britain infographics

CCC-Net-Zero-UK Action