The UK should aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, according to its chief advisory committee on climate change.
If adopted, the target proposed in a report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) would be the most ambitious emissions reduction goal set by any large economy.
Net zero means that any emissions are balanced by an equivalent amount taken from the atmosphere.
The UK government doesn’t have to act on the findings, but it commissioned the report after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last year that the world has less than 12 years to slash emissions and avoid disastrous levels of global warming. The IPCC says global greenhouse gas emissions need to reach net zero around 2050.
The CCC says the new target is “necessary, feasible and cost-effective” but that it requires drastic action, including phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles completely by 2035, planting 30,000 hectares of trees each year and cutting beef, lamb and dairy consumption by 20% by 2050.
At a briefing ahead of the report launch, Lord Deben, CCC chairman and former secretary of state for the environment, said, “This net-zero target puts us at the top of the pile. We say to the government: this can be done, you have the proof, but it won’t happen unless you take the lead.”
It comes a day after the UK parliament declared “an environment and climate emergency,” making it the first country in the world to do so, according to the opposition Labour Party.
To achieve the net-zero target tens of billions of pounds will need to be invested in renewable energy, electric vehicles, capturing and storing carbon emissions, and planting trees, according to the CCC.
Currently the UK has a target of curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Emissions had fallen by 42% in 2016.
The CCC report suggests a 2045 target for Scotland as the country has “greater potential to remove pollution from its economy” and said Wales should aim for a 95% emissions reduction by 2050 due to its large sheep farming industry.
Following the release of the report, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would commit to the new target and continue its “global leadership in tackling climate change.”
The new target encompasses all greenhouse gas emissions, including those from international aviation and shipping – two industries that do not fall under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which calls on countries to reduce their carbon output and halt global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Costs to reach the 2050 goal will total 1-2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) per year, the same amount estimated for the current target, the report said.
The recommendations come as climate activism is sweeping the globe. In March, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren walked out of class to protest their governments’ failure to curb emissions.
Last month, Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to trains and blocked major landmarks in London to demand climate action.
Extinction Rebellion activist Rupert Read told CNN that the 2050 target would not mitigate the long-term impacts of climate change and that the UK should aim to eliminate emissions by 2025.
“We [the UK] started the industrial revolution. We started the path that has lead us to this precipice. We have a responsibility to help lead a common way out of this looming catastrophe,” he said.
More than half of British adults, 54%, believe that “climate change threatens our extinction as a species,” according to a ComRes poll of 2,037 Great Britain adults online on 26-28 April 2019. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults.
Professor Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said that a net zero UK economy is “technically achievable” but that it relies on the treasury monitoring “emissions as closely as we monitor GDP growth and employment.”
He added that a zero emissions strategy should provide “the right incentives for businesses and have justice at its heart.”
Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, said that the 2050 target is “too far in the future.”
“As one of the leading countries in the fight against climate change, Britain must adopt a 2030 zero-carbon target, giving us 10 years to put in place win-win solutions that reduce carbon emissions, save money and make Britain a better, cleaner place to live,” he said.
In its motion to Parliament on Wednesday to declare a climate emergency, the Labour Party called for the government to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, while the UK Green Party has said it wants to achieve net zero by 2030.