The UK has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
Net zero is where the country is taking as much of these greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it is putting in.
As part of this promise, the government has a goal of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.
In June, a group of experts advising the government, said Boris Johnson had credible policies in place to provide only about a fifth of this cut.
- What does net zero mean?
Successive governments have had some success in reducing energy emissions: they fell by 40% between 1990 and 2019, with a big chunk of this coming from the closure of coal-fired power plants and spending on solar energy. wind and nuclear power.
The UK is a world leader in offshore wind. It currently has a capacity of around 10 GW, which the government has promised to quadruple by 2030. An increase to 40 GW would generate enough energy to power every home in the UK.
The increase is achievable, but energy companies fear that the price they pay for wind power is falling rapidly: this reduces their revenues and could limit further investments.
There will also be a need for much more energy for the periods when the wind is not blowing.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has advised the government that all gas-fired power plants where carbon is emitted and not captured should be phased out by 2035.
Boris Johnson has set a goal for all UK electricity to come from clean sources by 2035.
The government also promises a decision on investments in a nuclear power plant before 2024.
Cars and taxis accounted for 16% of UK emissions in 2019 and, in an effort to reduce them, the government says no new petrol and diesel cars will be sold from 2030.
Sales of electric cars are growing rapidly: just over 10% of cars sold in 2020 were electric, up from 2.5% in 2018.
The government hasn’t introduced a scrapping scheme to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, but a £ 2,500 grant is available for fully electric cars costing less than £ 35,000.
The switchover to electric will also require a huge growth in publicly accessible charging points.
Britain now has around 25,000 charging points but says the Italian Antitrust Authority it may need 10 times more before 2030.
To encourage people to get out of the car, the government has promised to double cycling rates from 2013 levels by 2025 and to build a “world class” cycling network by 2040.
It has spent £ 338 million on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in England, but while the pandemic has increased cycling rates, it is unclear whether the effect will be permanent.
Before the pandemic, flight accounted for around 7% of total emissions and shipping for around 3%, but we don’t know much about how the government intends to reduce them and there are no specific targets for these sectors.
The CCC says the government must freeze demand for flights and should publish a strategy to reduce emissions from freight, aviation and shipping.
But the government says people can keep flying, and says the yet-to-be-developed technology should allow domestic flights to be nearly carbon-free by 2040 and international aviation to be close to zero carbon by mid-century.
Housing accounts for around 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly due to gas boiler heating systems and poor insulation, the CCC says.
The government has pledged to install 600,000 heat pumps annually by 2028. These transfer heat from the ground, air or water around a property into its heating system and start at £ 6,000.
Around 35,000 were installed in the UK in 2019 – by comparison, around 1.7 million gas-fired boilers are sold annually in the UK.
Grants of £ 5,000 will be available for homeowners to install a heat pump from April 2022. The government has allocated £ 450 million for this over three years, which would be enough for 90,000 grants of £ 5,000 (if you ignore administration costs).
Environmental groups have wondered how the government will reach its goal of 600,000 (which according to the CCC should be higher anyway).
The government says it expects heat pumps to be as cheap to install and operate as gas boilers this decade, and hopes no new gas boilers will be sold by 2035.
- Families will receive £ 5,000 to replace gas boilers
- What is a heat pump and how much will it cost me?
The scheme is part of a larger package – worth £ 3.9 billion – decarbonising heat and public buildings.
The CCC also states that isolation rates are only about a third of what they should be to reduce energy consumption.
Earlier this year, the government canceled its grant scheme to help people meet the costs of insulating their homes. Its new package includes isolation aid, but will be limited to low-income families.
The CCC says agricultural emissions need to be reduced by 30% between 2019 and 2035.
This would mean:
- eat 20% less meat and dairy products on average by 2030
- displacement of land from agricultural use to restored trees and peatlands
- less food waste
The government has yet to publish the part of its food strategy that examines the environmental impact of people’s diets.
The CCC says there are signs that consumers would be willing to change what they eat.
A new study from the National Food Strategy shows that daily meat consumption in the UK has fallen by 17% over the past decade.
Trees play an important role in removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere and the government has an ambitious goal of planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year by 2025 (one hectare is a little bigger than a football field). .
Annual tree planting was close to this figure in the late 1980s (mostly in Scotland), but it hasn’t exceeded 15,000 hectares across the UK since 2001.
Tree planting is a devolved problem and Scotland has nearly twice as much coverage as England.
The government wants to triple plantations in England during this Parliament, but overall it has a lot of ground to recover by 2025. Strong acceleration will be needed to achieve this and there are questions about how the trees will be cared for after they are planted.
Hydrogen is a low-carbon fuel that could be used for transportation, heating, power generation or energy storage, and the government wants to have 5 GW hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
But in an industry in its infancy – there is hardly any low-carbon hydrogen production in the UK or the world at the moment – this ambition is rather difficult to assess.
The government admits it will need “rapid and significant expansion” in the coming years.
And it promises a decision on the role of hydrogen in warming by 2026.
- Is the “revolution” of hydrogen technology hope or hype?
- Can hydrogen fuel help drive towards a green future?
The ability to capture carbon before it is released or extract it from the atmosphere and store it will be essential for the UK to reach net zero by 2050.
The government aims to capture and store 10 million tons of CO2 annually by 2030, but the CCC says it should aim for more than double.
The biggest challenge is that the technology is still emerging and it is very expensive.
But there are some projects in the pipeline, including one in north-east Scotland that can extract as much CO2 from the air as 40 million trees.
The government says it will cut emissions from manufacturing by about two-thirds from 2018 to 2035.
Carbon capture and the shift to hydrogen will both play an important role, but significant advances are needed in these technologies.
The government also plans to limit the amount of emissions allowed by individual sectors each year, which will shrink over time.
But it is not clear how the scheme will safeguard against simply shifting production and emissions to other countries.
The COP26 world climate summit in Glasgow in November is seen as crucial if climate change is to be kept under control. Nearly 200 countries are being asked for their plans to reduce emissions and this could lead to major changes in our daily lives.
- Why the COP26 climate summit is important
- Simple guide to climate change
- What will climate change be like for you?
- Will the UK meet its climate targets?
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