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Achieving Net Zero


In June 2019, government committed in law to achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to deliver on the commitments it made in signing the Paris Agreement in 2016. Government also aimed to set an example for other countries to follow in the run-up to hosting the 26th United Nations’ Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), now due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021, having been postponed from November 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aiming for net zero represents an increase in the level of ambition from government’s previous 2008 emissions reduction target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050. Between 2008 and 2018, the UK’s emissions reduced by 28%, faster than any other G20 economy.

The NAO has recently described reducing emissions further, to achieve net zero, as a “colossal challenge” that will require wide-ranging changes to the UK economy, including further investment in renewable electricity generation, as well as changing the way people travel, how land is used and how buildings are heated.

The UK’s emissions are currently projected to exceed government’s targets for the years 2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032, though government plans to announce policies aimed at closing these gaps. Even faster progress is needed to get to net zero by 2050, including changes to the way electricity is generated, how people travel, how land is used and how buildings are heated.

The costs of achieving net zero are highly uncertain. The Climate Change Committee estimated in 2019 that the annual costs of achieving net zero could increase over time, to around 1-2% of GDP in 2050. BEIS is developing its own estimates of what net zero will cost between now and 2050, with this likely to be hundreds of billions of pounds.  HM Treasury will investigate how these costs could fall between government, businesses and individuals, as part of a review which will conclude in 2021.

However, the costs of inaction would be far greater because of the need to adapt to substantial climate change, such as building flood defences and dealing with the health impacts of higher temperatures. The Climate Change Committee has suggested there are also wider benefits of achieving net zero, such as improvements to human health and enhanced biodiversity.

This inquiry will build on the Committee’s work on how well Government is organised to deliver long term environmental goals. The Committee will question senior officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Treasury, on plans and readiness to achieve net zero by 2050. If you have evidence on these issues, please submit it here by 6pm on Thursday 21 January 2021.