UK net zero emissions commitment: ‘Humanity can’t afford not to adopt such targets’ say researchers

12 June 2019

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Climate experts and economists at the Oxford Martin School have welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement today that the UK will eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050.

By amending the Climate Change Act 2008 the UK will become the first G7 country to legislate for net zero emissions. Sweden, Denmark and Norway have already implemented such targets, France and New Zealand are in the process, and the US state of California and roughly 20 cities have already committed to net zero by 2050. Finland announced its intention to be carbon neutral by 2035 last week.

Describing the benefits the commitment could bring to the UK, Professor Cameron Hepburn of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Post-Carbon Transition said: “The clarity of a net zero commitment is likely to lead to investment and innovation on a huge scale. There will be costs, of course. But the experience with renewable energy shows that when we put our minds to it, innovation drives costs down and opens up new horizons and market opportunities. Far from it being unaffordable, humanity can't afford not to adopt such commitments in every country - UK leadership is to be welcomed.”

Tim Kruger, Manager of the Oxford Geoengineering Programme, part of the Oxford Martin School said the commitment was excellent news, adding; “We should welcome the fact that, even in these fractious times, this is something that the vast majority of MPs agree upon.”

Even in these fractious times, this is something that the vast majority of MPs agree upon.

Achieving the target would require a combination of emissions reduction and removing CO2 from the atmosphere, he said. “While a commitment to achieving net zero emissions is essential, it is only the start of the process. We need to see not only the legislation and the promises, but also action to make those promises real. We need to commit resources to undertake research, development, demonstration and deployment of proposed techniques to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and to ensure that any techniques that are developed are done in a way that does not cause environmental harms and that are socially acceptable.”

Dr Kruger added: “Getting to Net Zero will require both steep reductions in emissions and the development of approaches that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It's not an either/or situation - we will need both.”

Professor Hepburn also identified areas in which swift action could be taken to move towards the net zero goal. “Hitting net zero in time will be easier and more valuable to the UK with some clever strategies. This includes identifying the ‘sensitive intervention points’, where modest interventions can have a dramatic effect on the climate,” he said. “Corporates and the financial sector can think about emissions targets in a similar way: can they meet the net zero challenge enshrined in the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment?”