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UK to introduce 2050 ‘net zero’ carbon legislation

Outgoing prime minister will formalise recent calls to end climate emissions output; the pledge will then be reviewed in five years to ensure other nations and their industries are following suit

Theresa May will use one of her last acts as prime minister to commit the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 amidst growing industry pressure for stricter climate change targets.

A range of industry bodies and environmental organisations have welcomed the move, while demanding clearer strategies and greater support to ensure key industries such as the HVACR sector are able to meet the stricter demands of fully eliminating national carbon emissions.

With the Conservative Party currently undergoing a leadership election to determine who will replace the prime minister later this summer, Ms May has this week committed to amend the 2008 Climate Change Act to totally eliminate the country’s carbon emissions within 31 years.

The move will formalise recent recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to go beyond existing UK targets to curb carbon emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels over the same time period.

The long-term net zero ambition, claimed to be the first time a G7 country has legislated to meet such a target, will then be reviewed in five years to ensure that other countries are following with similar commitments.

The prime minister, acting in a caretaker capacity after officially resigning last week, said it would be important to ensure other major economies were making similar lower carbon commitments to ensure UK industry did not face “unfair competition”.

She added, “As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change. We have made huge progress in growing our economy and the jobs market while slashing emissions.”

“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.”

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the proposed introduction of net zero emissions legislation as being the correct response to the global climate crisis.

Industry reaction

CBI director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said that business would therefore be ready to play a role in helping realise how the stricter targets can be met, if sufficient support was available.

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

“Some sectors will need clear pathways to enable investment in low-carbon technologies, and it is vital that there is cross-government coordination on the policies and regulation needed to deliver a clean future.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said the decision to implement net zero legislation would serve to give the prime minister a legacy beyond Brexit by committing to tackle one of the world’s most significant long-term challenges.

She said, “UKGBC knows that the built environment contains some of the biggest opportunities to slash emissions. We must accelerate action in all areas including improving the efficiency of our aging building stock, and overcoming the challenge of decarbonising heat.

“To do this, we need to see both policy and industry leadership to ensure the built environment is at the vanguard of emissions reductions. There is no time to lose, now is the time to act.”

The Solar Trade Association (STA) said that the stricter long-term targets would be meaningless without clear action to support widescale change in infrastructure and industry.

STA chief executive Chris Hewett argued that a 100 per cent renewable energy system that accounted for key needs such as heating and transport was possible for the UK if backed by sufficient energy storage capabilities.

He said, “In the case of solar and energy storage the government must move quickly to remove barriers that have needlessly slowed progress. In contrast to the view of the Treasury the whole country will benefit from the energy transition if government creates a level playing field for all clean energy generation technologies to compete on.”

“Solar and wind are now the lowest cost forms of power generation in the UK, yet there is no route to market and government is continuing to subsidise the fossil fuels it is aiming to phase out.”

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