Commentary

Climate Action – The time is now

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The recommendation today of the Committee on Climate Change for a net zero target is nothing less than historic. A pathway has been set out for the UK to end its contribution to climate change by 2050. The Government must now move swiftly to put net-zero into law.

If it does so, it will be the first major economy in the world to have legislated a net-zero target. It would unleash a clean industrial revolution and inspire other countries to follow suit. It would be an act of great British leadership.

Although the Committee has recommended a 2050 target, it is clear that the UK can go further and faster than set out in the report. It could bring forward the ban on fossil fuel heating systems and cars. It could end the expansion of UK airports, increase the area of British forests far more than the CCC suggests and it could massively increase investment to insulate UK homes, which would help slash energy bills too. The government should set a net-zero target well before 2050 and by 2045 at the latest.

The evidence to date has shown that for every action the Government has undertaken to support the development of zero carbon Britain, they have taken a step to undermine that progress. They set up the Green Investment Bank, the first of its kind in the world. Then they sold it off. They gave strong support to off-shore wind, making us the number one developer in the world. Then they pulled the plug on on-shore wind and cut all financial support for solar power. They have overseen the mass delivery of smart meters to millions of homes. But they cut funding support for insulation, with the rate of installations crashing by 95%.

And it doesn’t end there. The Government set up the Carbon Price Floor but then they froze it. They championed the development of electric cars but then they froze fuel duty. They set up the impressive and internationally lauded Powering Past Coal Alliance but have given unprecedented tax breaks to the oil and gas sector and attempted to unleash a fracking boom. On top of this they have backed airport expansion and announced the biggest new road building programme in a generation.

It's a shocking set of policy and investment contradictions which helps explain why the rate of UK emission reduction has suddenly slowed and why we are not on course to meet the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

This has happened because until now the Government ministers have been divided between climate champions and fossil fuel dinosaurs. But to reach net-zero, a unity of political purpose is required. Everyone politician must be signed up to the greatest political test of our generation. Last night Parliament declared a climate emergency and called for a net-zero target before 2050. The Conservative Government and all Conservative MPs must now join that call.

The good news, and the killer fact from the net-zero report released today,is that it will only cost 1-2% of GDP to reach net zero.

This is the same as the cost estimated ten years ago to reach the 80% target enshrined in the Climate Change Act. The cost is the same because the cost of key technologies has plummeted after they were backed by Government. This target is more than affordable and that cost doesn’t even take into account the financial benefits of clean air and the cost of inaction.

There is now a window for Ministers to deliver a Green Finance Strategy this summer which resolves their energy policy contradictions, realigns our economy and cuts a path to net zero. Climate change must also be put at the heart of the economic mission of the Treasury and of the upcoming spending review. New road projects should be cancelled and the money funnelled into helping people to make their homes zero carbon. We have the money. We just need the political will.

We are running out of time. All parts of Government must treat climate change like the emergency it is. The time to act is now.

This article was originally published in BusinessGreen.