A target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 has become law, making the UK the first major economy to legislate to end its contribution to global warming, the Government said.
The move comes after the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change called for the new legal target to be brought in as soon as possible and to urgently ramp up action to cut emissions.
Hitting net zero – a 100% cut in emissions – will mean an end to heating of homes with traditional gas boilers, more green electricity and a switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles, walking and cycling.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore has signed the order paper which makes the law come into force on Thursday, after it passed the Commons and Lords this week.
The new target amends the previous goal to cut climate pollution by 80% by 2050, which was agreed by MPs under the Climate Change Act in 2008.
Today we make history as the first major economy in the world to legislate to end its contribution to #climatechange entirely. Laws signed by @CSkidmoreUK and which come into force today commit the UK to #netzero emissions by 2050 #cleangrowth 🌍🎉https://t.co/zZU8obawPr pic.twitter.com/PqSBZnzVYG— Dept for BEIS (@beisgovuk) June 27, 2019
Emissions will have to be brought as near to zero as possible and any remaining pollution in 2050 from areas including aviation will need to be “offset” through measures to cut carbon such as planting trees.
The committee told the Government the move would be in line with commitments to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C (2.7f) above pre-industrial levels under the international Paris Agreement and will provide leadership for other countries on tackling climate change.
A recent letter leaked to the Financial Times showed the Treasury warning the PM that making the shift to a zero carbon economy would cost at least £1 trillion.
But the committee also said it will cost around 1-2% of annual economic output up to 2050 – the same as predicted a decade ago for the 80% target – while the price of inaction would be many times higher.
The committee’s chairman Lord Deben said he was “delighted” the target had become law.
“Delivering net zero will require major commitment over the coming decades, but will bring significant benefits too.
“This is a positive first step, and sends a strong signal that the UK is ready to lead the global effort to tackle climate change.
“The UK must now deliver on its ambition with credible policies to drive action. My message to the Government is simple: Now do it.”
The move comes in the wake of increasingly severe warnings from scientific experts about the impacts of rising global temperatures and the need for “unprecedented” action to curb the problem.
The climate “emergency” has also been rising up the public agenda, with youngsters walking out of classes and lectures for school strikes, Extinction Rebellion protests and a mass lobby of MPs by constituents on Wednesday.
Mr Skidmore said: “The UK kick-started the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for economic growth across the globe but also for increasing emissions.
“Today we’re leading the world yet again in becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 while remaining committed to growing the economy – putting clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.”
The Government hopes other countries will follow suit and has pledged a review within five years to ensure other nations are taking similarly ambitious action, and British industries are not facing unfair competition.
As the target became law, figures showed renewables made up 35.8% of UK power generation in the first quarter of the year, while low carbon overall, which includes nuclear, accounted for 51.8% of the mix.
Both are a record high for the time of year.