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Net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective. We must show international leadership on climate change

4 min read

The benefits of action to reduce emissions are clear: cleaner air, healthier diets, new industries and jobs. The UK must drive forward policies without delay, writes Lord Deben


The reality of our changing climate is becoming clear. We are experiencing extremes in temperature and weather, driven by the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists say with certainty that human activity lies behind these changes. Our global thirst for fossil fuels is causing our planet to warm.

Public sentiment seems to be shifting. In a recent IPSOS-Mori poll, 85% of UK adults expressed concern about the changing climate and nearly three-quarters believe the country is already facing the associated effects. They are right to do so.

As Parliamentarians, this is the context for our work. In June we passed new legislation on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which I chair. It raises our ambition to reduce the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

In my committee’s assessment, we judged net zero to be necessary, feasible and cost-effective. The benefits of action are clear: cleaner air, healthier diets, new industries and jobs. This can be a route to modernising our economy and achieving greater energy security.

Investment in the infrastructure to exploit clean technologies will place the UK at the forefront of an economic transition, but it will not happen by magic. The policies and plans which Parliament will debate and sanction will guide the UK’s transition over the next 30 years.

Our response to climate change transcends the current political impasse. We must be inspired to discuss climate change and tackle it with the vigour that its urgency demands. The science is clear. The next 10 years are crucial.

So far, the UK response to climate change has been characterised by a welcome consensus among all main parties on the need to act. But the solutions do not belong to any one part of the political spectrum – we should debate and wrestle with the competing visions of how our greenhouse gas emissions can be cut.

Successive governments have found the scale of ambition and coordination required challenging. My committee’s recent progress report to Parliament showed that, in the last year, the Government has delivered just one of 25 critical policies needed to get UK emissions reductions on track. We will soon face a moment of reckoning to put this right.

Next year, in Glasgow, the UK will host a major global climate summit. It has been described as the most important gathering on climate change since 2015 in Paris, when leaders from nearly 200 countries signed a global accord to constrain temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. We are already at 1C.

In Glasgow, the signatories to the Paris Agreement must demonstrate how they will meet this commitment. It is a diplomacy mission like no other – and we are uniquely well-placed to lead it. The basis of our presidency will be the new net zero target; our credibility will rest on the plans to meet it.

There are some encouraging signs. We have been buoyed by a series of new commitments, including options to incentivise and fund carbon capture, usage and storage technology.

In transport, there has been increased investment in the national cycle network, additional electric vehicle charging infrastructure funding, and we saw a £300m investment for UK innovators to develop cleaner, greener forms of transport.

In Scotland, the recent Programme for Government delivered a welcome package of measures, showing that Scotland is serious about its commitment to combat climate change.

The Spending Review, though short on detail, signalled increased funding for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to tackle climate issues, and for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to develop net zero programmes. It also pointed to new climate-related announcements in the Government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy. These are important components of a more comprehensive strategy.

But more is required – much, much more. Unless we act swiftly, today’s challenges – important as they are – will pale in comparison to those that would await us were we to allow the world to warm beyond 1.5C.

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

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Deben - The Conservative Party must rediscover Thatcher’s pioneering climate leadership

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