A climate-friendly economy

This week’s commitment by the Government to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 is remarkable.  We are the first major nation to pledge this legally-binding target, and it’s a very big step.

Parliament has already set a binding target for the UK to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by this time.  In fact we were the first country in the world to pass a Climate Change Act.  

We are making good progress.  Since 2010, total greenhouse gases have fallen by 25 per cent, faster than any other G20 country.  We recently had the first coal-free fortnight on our power system since the industrial revolution.

The even more ambitious target was recommended by the Committee on Climate Change last month.  It followed a UN report which warned that there is little over a decade for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C.

Even half a degree temperature rise above this will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

But there are two big questions, and the first is the cost.  The Committee said that that the new target could be met at no greater cost than previous estimates.

But these are still significant - tens of billions of pounds a year, potentially reaching between 1 and 2 per cent of GDP.

Continuing advances in technology may well reduce these costs, as they have done over the last decade.  The cost estimates don’t count the benefits of decarbonisation, such as cleaner air and water.  And the costs of inaction to the planet and the next generation could be catastrophic.

Achieving net zero, which means balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal, will will require major changes to our economy.  For instance, all new cars will have to be electric in just a decade’s time.

Transforming home efficiency, aviation and agriculture will mean huge challenges, but also new opportunities.  We already have almost 400,000 jobs in the low carbon economy and its supply chain, and this could grow to 2 million in 2030.

The second big question is how we encourage other countries to follow suit.  Only if fast-growing industrial economies such as India and China take similar action will we meet the global targets.

Britain is showing real global leadership on climate change, but other nations must follow.