Wilf Lytton is Senior Researcher at Bright Blue.
It has been ten years to the week since the UK signed the 2008 Climate Change Act into law. It remains, as then, a historic and forward-thinking Act of Parliament that has delivered economic prosperity and a safer future for the people of the UK.
The Climate Change Act committed us to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Since then, a great deal of progress has been achieved to reduce the impacts of human activity on the climate. UK greenhouse gas emissions have continued to fall since 2008 and we’re now over halfway towards meeting our existing target.
Decarbonising our economy has also brought about significant economic benefits. Earlier this month, Greg Clark described how “green energy is, increasingly, [becoming] cheap energy”. Furthermore, the UK is at the forefront of developing low carbon technologies and is now a major exporter of electric vehicles.
Our knowledge of climate change has evolved markedly since 2008. Two new lines evidence have emerged, giving us clearer understanding of the consequences the UK and international community face if we fail to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees relative to pre-industrial levels, and the solutions that are needed to respond to that threat.
Last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear that bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero before 2050 is necessary for meeting the below 1.5 degree target agreed by the international community at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. It also spells out the risks of exceeding that target: higher incidences of extreme weather; environmental degradation; mass extinctions; and, disruption to the economy and supply chains. The IPCC’s latest report removes any doubt that upholding the Paris Agreement is in the UK’s interests. Indeed, yesterday, Michael Gove said that climate-related natural catastrophes are on the rise.
In our recent report, Hotting Up, Bright Blue called for Government to adopt a new legal net zero emissions target to be delivered by the middle of this century at the latest, based on the overwhelming evidence that deeper decarbonisation is urgently needed in the decades ahead.
New modelling by Vivid Economics tells us that the goal of staying within 1.5 degrees of warming is possible if we determinedly pursue all available options for reducing emissions. This includes taking steps to rapidly eliminate emissions from heat, transport and land use which have, historically, been slow to decarbonise. Unlike the previous 80 per cent emissions reduction target, a net zero emissions target requires all sectors of the economy to have reached virtually zero emissions before 2050.
Next year, when the Committee on Climate Change publishes its advice to the Government on the UK adopting and meeting a new, legal net zero emissions target, there will be an opportunity for the UK to once again be a global leader in deep decarbonisation.
Despite the initial scepticism, it is worth reminding ourselves of the changes the 2008 Climate Change Act has brought about over the course of just ten years, whether that’s through providing jobs in the green economy, improving air quality, or creating new opportunities to export low carbon products to the rest of the world. Many daunting challenges lie ahead for the UK in reaching net zero emissions but, if a decade of experience in reducing emissions has proved anything, it’s that embracing those challenges will pay dividends for the UK for years to come.