Boris Johnson has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 - this is why he is set to miss that target

Posted On: 
30th August 2019

Boris Johnson has committed to reducing the UK's Greenhouse Gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Dods Monitoring's Alexandra Goodwin explains why he is set to miss that target. 

This target requires a complete overhaul of current policy across all sectors, writes Dods Monitoring's Alexandra Goodwin.
Credit: 
PA Images

What is ‘Net Zero’?

To acknowledge her commitment to the environment and to bolster her own legacy, one of the final acts of Theresa May’s administration was to legislate for net zero by 2050. The Statutory Instrument introduced in June by former Business Secretary, Greg Clark, amended the 2008 Climate Change Act target of 80 per cent carbon emission reductions by 2050, to 100 per cent. During the Conservative leadership race, Boris Johnson affirmed his support for this commitment, but has so far failed to outline any longer-term policies to achieve this.

Achieving net zero emissions would mean the total amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere equals the amount sequestered. A ‘gross zero’ target, by contrast, would require the UK to not emit any GHGs into the atmosphere at all. The target therefore permits the UK to leave some residual emissions in the economy, so long as the UK sequesters the same amount. This can be done naturally by planting forests, or artificially through Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) and Direct Air Capture.

Necessary, feasible, cost-effective

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published a report in May on the UK’s contribution to stopping Climate Change and concluded that net-zero was “necessary, feasible and cost-effective.” With the effects of air pollution negatively affecting people’s health and an alarming loss of plant and animal life globally, it is essential that Government departments work together to achieve the net zero target.

Requires Radical Reform

Former Chancellor Philip Hammond predicted that the cost to achieve net zero would be in the region of £1 trillion. The target will require a large-scale overhaul of current policies, sweeping changes to targets and cross-departmental teamwork. It will affect the way people in the UK eat, commute, work and heat their homes. Energy, Transport and Housing in particular will require radical reform—as the sectors collectively account for 80 per cent of the UK’s total emissions—with overarching oversight from HM Treasury, who will have to back new policies with concrete spending commitments. 

The Government has taken the first steps in this direction with schemes, subsidies and consultations adapting to a greener future across many sectors. In energy, they have continued their commitment to nuclear power and the decommissioning of oil and gas in the North Sea. Furthermore, measures to ease the reuse of oil and gas infrastructure for CCUS were announced and Clark unveiled the Government’s ambition to phase coal out of the energy system entirely by 2025. Heavy emphasis has also been placed on the decarbonisation of heat.

In transport, the Government has continued to funnel money into electric vehicles as a part of their Road to Zero strategy, with the headline target of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Alongside Clark’s commitment to include aviation and shipping into the 2050 target, the previous Government made it clear they would not use their international carbon credits to offshore emissions.

The Government must take a stronger lead

However, this target requires a complete overhaul of current policy across all sectors, which is a point underplayed in net zero conversations….

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Stay Tuned for an in-depth analysis of Net Zero and what this means for future policy next week!