UK sets new net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 target

Revising existing greenhouse gas emissions goal ‘crucial’ to protecting the planet, Prime Minister Theresa May says.

A commuter walks along Waterloo Bridge, which is being blocked by climate change activists, during the Extinction Rebellion protest in London, Britain April 17, 2019
Achieving the 2050 target will require ending emissions from homes, transport and industry, or offsetting them by capturing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere [File: Hannah McKay/Reuters]

The United Kingdom will cut net greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to zero by the middle of this century, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced, marking it out as the first G7 nation to set such a goal.

The UK’s pre-existing target, set more than a decade ago, was to slash net GHGs by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. However, campaigners have cautioned this target would not go far enough to meet pledges made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to try to limit a rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, widely considered to be the threshold for dangerous climate change.

“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children,” May said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations,” she added. “Standing by is not an option.”

The legislation will be put before parliament on Wednesday to amend Britain’s existing 2008 Climate Change Act to incorporate the new target, the statement said.

‘Right response to crisis’

The move came after the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change recommended adopting the “net zero” target last month.

If replicated across the world and coupled with near-term emissions reductions, there would be a greater than 50 percent chance of limiting global temperature increases to just 1.5C, the committee said.

Achieving the 2050 target will require ending emissions from homes, transport and industry, or offsetting them by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) present in the atmosphere.

A London bus enters the new Ultra Low Emission Zone that has come into force Monday, in London, Monday, April 8, 2019
Slashing net emissions to zero could require phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars by at least 2035 [File: Frank Augstein/AP]

It would also necessitate more renewable electricity generation and could require the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars by at least 2035

Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), welcomed the move and said UK business stood “squarely behind the government’s commitment”.

“This legislation is the right response to the global climate crisis, and firms are ready to play their part in combating it,” Fairbairn said in a statement.

“Climate leadership can drive UK competitiveness and secure long-term prosperity,” she added. “This legislation must be followed by a commitment to long-term policies that support decarbonisation across the economy.”

Climate change threatens conflict

Separately on Wednesday, an annual peace index released by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) warned that nearly a billion people worldwide live in areas at high risk from the effects of global warming.

Future climate change could threaten livelihoods and force mass migration, the IEP report added, as well as potentially create struggles and conflict over diminishing resources.

Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters block a road in central London, Thursday, April 25, 2019
Protesters from the Extinction Rebellion group demonstrated in central London earlier this year to demand the government made slowing climate change a top priority [File: Matt Dunham/AP]

“The effects of climate change pose a major challenge to peacefulness in the coming decade,” IEP warned.

“Factors such as resource scarcity, livelihood security and displacement can greatly increase the risk of future violent conflict, even when climate change does not directly cause conflict,” it added.

Amid the ominous warning, the UK government urged other nations to also take action and put in place stricter emissions targets in a bid to avert climate breakdown.

“It is imperative that other major economies follow suit,” the statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies