Lord Deben: On Climate change, there is not an option to do nothing. We must act now

Posted On: 
3rd May 2019

There is a manageable cost to tackling climate change, and the lesson of the last decade is that costs fall when there is a concerted effort to act, writes Lord Deben

Extinction Rebellion protesters in Parliament Square
Credit: 
PA Images

This week saw the Climate Change Committee recommend urgent and essential action to tackle climate change. We advised Government to set a new target to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions effectively to zero by 2050. 

We must as a nation show international leadership on this vital issue. In accepting the Committee’s advice, the UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years and honour the commitment we made to the rest of the world when signing up to the Paris Agreement.  

Much has changed since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. Over the past decade, my Committee has been able to build our knowledge and evidence about the global impacts of climate change. This is a continuation of an important journey. In 2003, the UK pursued a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% from 1990 levels. In 2008, on the advice of my Committee, Parliament moved to an 80% target for all greenhouse gases, accepting that the costs were between 1-2% of GDP in 2050. 

There have also been landmark moments; the Paris Agreement saw 195 countries adopt the first-ever universal, legally-binding global climate deal. The IPCC report on 1.5C degrees emphasised the urgent need for action and provided a timely reminder to us all, that inaction is not an option. It was this report which led to the UK and Devolved Administrations asking for advice on how and when we are able to reduce emissions by 100 per cent or ‘net-zero’. In a time of increased focus on climate change, where we are seeing climate strikes, our recommendations can provide the pathway to help leave the world in a better place for the next generation.

Our analysis demonstrates that we are able to adopt an even more ambitious target to reduce emissions, within the same cost envelope. Net zero is a more fundamental aim than previous targets set. By reducing emissions produced in the UK to zero, we also end our contribution to rising global temperatures. That this outcome is now within reach is testament to the UK’s progress and the decisions made.

We have concluded that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective. Necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government. Cost effective – because falls in the cost of key technologies permit net zero within the very same costs that were accepted as the likely costs by Parliament in 2008 when it legislated the present 2050 target. 

Our advice is only credible if policies are introduced to match. Existing ambitions must be delivered in full, challenges that have so far been out of scope must now be confronted. The UK must make firm plans for housing and domestic heat; for industrial emissions; carbon capture and storage; road transport; agriculture; aviation and shipping. There is a manageable cost to tackling these challenges, and the lesson of the last decade is that costs fall when there is a concerted effort to act.

We have assessed the contribution that Wales and Scotland can make to net zero in the UK, under their respective statutory frameworks. In Wales, we recommend a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. In Scotland, we recommend a net-zero date of 2045, reflecting Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole. These are tough, but achievable targets, in line with the UK net-zero target.

This is the most thorough assessment my Committee could compile; our recommendations the most robust we can offer. There is no option to do nothing. We must act now.

Lord Deben is a Conservative peer and chairman of the Committee on Climate Change