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The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s panel of official advisers on climate change stated yesterday that the UK government needs to set a legally binding target to cut our greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. ‘Net zero’ recognises that we will still be burning some fossil fuels, for example for flying, whilst emissions arise from farming too, but that these emissions would be counteracted by the planting of trees or by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power stations and factories, which could then be buried underground.

The CCC proposes a number of actions to reach net zero by 2050.  For example, by eating less meat, by significantly increasing the use of renewable energy in electricity generation, by ending the use of gas boilers for heating and hot water in homes (currently over 85% of the UK’s homes are heated by gas boilers), ending the use of petrol and diesel cars and by planting another 1.5 billion trees.

The zero emissions target would fulfil the UK’s promise, made in the Paris agreement of 2015 to limit the rise in global temperatures to as close as possible to 1.5C above pre-Industrial levels.  Pledges to cut carbon emissions made so far by countries around the world would result in a 3C rise in global temperatures, so it’s clear that more needs to be done, not just by the UK, but the rest of the world too.  The CCC says that if the rest of the world follows the UK’s lead in adopting similar targets, there is a 50% chance that global temperature increases could be held to below 1.5C by 2100.

The CCC targets are the most ambitious yet put forward by any major global economy.  They do not allow any carbon to be offset overseas and include aviation and shipping too.  Some environmental groups have called for zero emissions by 2045, while the recent Extinction Rebellion protests have demanded zero emissions by 2025.

The CCC report is a hugely positive step on the way to decarbonising our society.  Public support for action against climate change is clearly growing, as has been demonstrated in recent Extinction Rebellion protests and school strikes that have taken place in the UK and across the world.  However, the plans will have to be passed into law for them to be effective and this requires support from politicians.

Former Environment Secretary John Gummer, who is now Lord Deben said, “We [must] do it now. The urgency is not just a matter of a shortness of time, but the quicker you do it, the cheaper it is.”  Meanwhile, Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC has said he would like to see the zero emissions target set before the next big United Nations summit in September.

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