Alex Sobel: We can reach ‘Net Zero’ emissions. Here’s how

Posted On: 
15th October 2018

Labour has a clear plan to reach 'Net Zero' emissions by 2050, and we’re determined to lead the way, writes Alex Sobel

Labour would hit the accelerator on the Government’s 2040 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, Sobel writes
Credit: 
PA

What’s the rarest thing in the world? Perhaps a truly free lunch, me shooting a three-point basket, or a bunch of politicians doing what they promised?

At Labour conference this year Jeremy Corbyn reminded us of a promise at the last election to honour the Paris Agreement and our international obligation to fight climate change. The UK signed this agreement alongside 194 other parties to say that we recognise our impact on the planet and that will play our part to fix it. He and Rebecca Long Bailey outlined the first steps we’re taking to fulfil that promise. And went further.

It’s a difficult thing building an economy which is entirely ‘decarbonised’, the phrase for removing the greenhouse gasses from an activity. The task before us is to reach ‘Net Zero’ emissions before 2050 if we’re to prevent runaway climate change. This doesn’t mean no emissions at all, something hard to do in some sectors of the economy, it means any carbon released elsewhere will need to be compensated by carbon absorbed in other sectors.

This would put us on track to develop the first truly clean, fully sustainable economy, building upon the strides already taken by the energy, industrial and waste sectors all of which have seen significant carbon reductions in recent years. It’s worth noting that the OECD predicts that acting on climate change will boost economic growth, both in avoiding climate impacts, but also investing in clean, efficient and new technologies.

What does it mean in practice? It can be broken down into five sectors.

Energy

Much of the progress made decarbonising the UK economy to date has been in the energy sector.

Renewable energy is getting very cheap. Its rapid development in the UK broke 13 separate records in deployment and generation in 2017. Development has focused on offshore wind with the government disregarding or actively disrupting attempts to build onshore wind and solar power.

Support for renewables has never been higher with solar reaching 87% public approval. Coal-fired power stations, on the other hand, are on track to close by 2025.

Labour have promised to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, doubling onshore wind, tripling solar deployment and multiplying offshore wind deployment by seven – a huge industrial opportunity.

Transport

Unlike energy, the transport sector has made no progress decarbonising to date. In fact, emissions are rising. Transport is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the UK, taking the pollution crown from energy this year.

This is set to change with sales of electric vehicles (not to be confused with automated vehicles) and hybrids up 22% this year while diesels have fallen 31%. Given the added risk of Brexit, the UK needs to create strong conditions for growth in the electric vehicle market if it is to attract investment from automotive manufacturers. This is why Labour would hit the accelerator on the Government’s 2040 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

We’re also keen to enhance active transport with cycling and walking infrastructure improved, as well as committing to retrofit thousands of diesel buses, provide under 25s with free bus travel and electrify the railways.

Business and Industry

A quarter of emissions reductions need to be found in the business/industry sector. Thankfully increasing energy efficiency and productivity make good business sense so methods for reducing energy use and new technologies like electric arc furnaces and waste heat recovery have already been developed.

Carbon capture remains a key technology to decarbonise some industrial processes, but with the government notoriously pulling the plug on competitions to develop this technology, progress has been slow.

Homes and buildings

Keeping homes and commercial building lit and warm accounts for around 15% of the UK’s emissions. While increasingly the power coming into our homes is from renewable sources, heat is much more difficult to decarbonise.

We’re taking a long hard look at heat networks, hydrogen, electrification and hybrid heat pumps, but determining how best to decarbonise heat will take time. That doesn’t mean we can’t act now by reducing how much we use. I recently chaired a session with Carbon Connect on this very issue finding that key to reducing our emissions (and energy bills) is insulating our homes.

Unfortunately, the failure of the Conservatives’ Green Deal has resulted in a huge drop in the number of insulation measures being installed. Labour have committed increasing this significantly, insulating 4 million homes to a high standard in our first term in parliament.

Natural resources

There has been little change in agricultural emissions over the past six years.

Farming techniques which improve soil quality, enabling it to store more carbon are in use but not widespread and should be encouraged. Techniques include planting cover crops, more frequent crop rotation and reduced fertiliser use. These changes can make our land a net absorber of carbon which, in a Net Zero economy, will be an important method for balancing against the final few areas where emissions can’t be cut out entirely.

In this age of accelerating changes, no one knows what the world will look like in 10 years’ time, let alone in 2050. However other countries particularly Nordic Countries like Norway and Denmark have much better and more robust plans than ours. We can’t perfectly map the full path to a Net Zero emissions economy, but as Labour’s commitments show, we have a clear plan and are determined to lead the way.

Yet we can’t fulfil our promise if we continue to be in opposition. If you want to see a Net Zero economy then get out and support Labour and raise this issue with your Local MP, councillors and get involved with the Labour party and raise it their too. 

Alex Sobel is Labour MP for Leeds North West