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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 acting 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.”

The Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) trade body said the legislation would put the UK at the forefront of climate change policy globally.

However, EUA chief executive Mike Foster also called on policy makers to ensure there was sufficient support to allow key industry sectors to realise net zero emissions.

He said, “For policy-makers grappling with how to decarbonise heat, they need to keep focussed on peak heat demand.”

“Green gases such as Hydrogen, Biomethane and bio SNG are being increasingly recognised as the preferred solution to meet UK heat demand, which is seasonal and demands a flexible supply. Our members are poised to deliver and ready to work collaboratively with government to introduce it into people’s homes, businesses and into the UK transport network. EUA believes that green gas addresses the energy trilemma by providing a secure, affordable and flexible source of energy.”

The EUA cited previous commitments made by Chancellor Philip Hammond to increase the proportion of green gas in the grid as being a vital component of any strategy to ensure the UK’s carbon emissions are fully mitigated or offset.

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.”

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