WHEN you commit yourself to meeting a target, you commit yourself to taking the necessary actions to reach that target.

Last Monday, our politicians unanimously waved through changes to the Climate Change Act (2008) which, if passed through the Lords, will commit us to cutting greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2050. In doing so they committed us, up and down the country, to making changes in how we live which are ‘unprecedented in their overall scale’. These are the words of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which recommended the 2050 target.

The CCC has welcomed Parliament’s action with delight and will begin the busy work of ‘providing advice on the detailed path to net zero’. However, in recommending the 2050 target, the CCC has already done a great deal of this work. This is set out in the very report that recommends net zero and is used to justify why the CCC considers the target achievable. No doubt our politicians have read the report’s 277 pages and so they know full well what they have signed us up to. For others, I’ll provide a summary.

Firstly, the CCC estimates that the cost of hitting the target will be 1-2 per cent of GDP per annum through to 2050. UK GDP is in the order of £2trillion so that is a cost of £20billion to £40billion per year. For comparison, we spend £40billion on schools per year.

The CCC is aware that the target is tough and therefore that the changes outlined in its report will mostly be necessary, not optional. It says: ‘In one sense, the key difference is that [the previous] 80 per cent target has the flexibility not to pursue some abatement options, whereas a net-zero target requires that all opportunities to reduce emissions are taken’ [my italics]. So here is a taste of our lives to come:

  • ‘This includes a 20 per cent reduction in consumption of beef, lamb and dairy . . .’ (If we fall behind in other areas they push this to 50 per cent.)
  • ‘Bio-degradable waste . . . should not be sent to landfill after 2025. This will require . . . mandatory separation.’ Yet more bins in every home.
  • ‘Gas distribution networks . . . will either need to be decommissioned or, if feasible, repurposed to hydrogen. Decisions will be required from the mid-2020s’. No more cooking with gas, folks!
  • A fifth of UK agricultural land shifted from current use to tree planting, energy crops, and peatland restoration. Our landscape profoundly changed for ever!
  • ‘Afforestation to increase from current rates below 10,000 hectares per year to at least 30,000 hectares per year. (How?)
  • All new car sales to be electric by 2035. ‘3,500 rapid and ultra-rapid chargers near motorways to enable long journeys and 210,000 public chargers in towns and cities.’
  • All heavy goods vehicles switched to zero emissions.
  • ‘Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in industry . . . CCS is a necessity not an option.’
    Industry, in its entirety, required to hit net zero . . .
  • ‘Reaching net-zero GHG emissions requires extensive changes across the economy, with complete switchovers of several parts of the UK capital stock to low-carbon technologies. Major infrastructure decisions need to be made in the near future and quickly implemented . . . These changes are unprecedented in their overall scale.’

Page 170 (on the PDF) of the CCC Report says: ‘Achieving net-zero GHG emissions for the UK will rely on a range of speculative options that currently have very low levels of technology readiness, very high costs, and/or significant barriers to public acceptability.’ Significant barriers to public acceptability, you say? Our ‘representatives’ wave it through parliament anyway . . .

Given that our parliamentarians have united in cheering all this on, it is hard to work out where the desperately needed scrutiny and challenge will come from. Perhaps we have to hope that virtue signalling has indeed taken over politics and that none of them actually means it. With the CCC due to report on detailed actions next year, there won’t be much room to hide if legislative changes don’t start to happen soon.

Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have more or less indicated they will stick to the target. But perhaps whoever becomes Prime Minister will say that they weren’t aware of the fine print. While the CCC has estimated the cost at 1-2 per cent of GDP for the next 30 years, Philip Hammond and the Treasury have already suggested that it is much higher. A new Prime Minister should surely ask for a comparative analysis between the two sets of costings and then could perhaps use that as a get-out clause.

Currently the UK has a GHG reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050. Therefore the ratcheting up of required changes is to achieve the extra 20 per cent reduction. Remember, that is 20 per cent of the UK’s 1-2 per cent of global emissions. Drastic lifestyle changes from each and every one of us, for ever, to achieve global emissions reductions of 0.2 to 0.4 per cent? While China continues to build coal power plants and global emissions continue to rise.  Could a new Prime Minister really claim that this makes sense? I think I know what the Brexit Party will think.

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