UK urged to adopt world’s toughest climate targets

LONDON • British people need to fly less, drive electric cars, eat little meat and turn their home thermostats down to 19°C in order to rein in greenhouse gases damaging the planet.

Those are the recommendations from the government’s official advisor on climate change as they sketch out the toughest measures anywhere in the industrial world to rein in pollution.

Drawn up by a panel including lawmakers, scientists, industry officials and analysts, their 277-page report also suggests a drastic overhaul for industry, agriculture and aviation.

The findings mark out the ways Prime Minister Theresa May and her successors can reach a target to cut net emissions to zero by 2050, something scientists said is necessary to prevent more violent storms and rising seas that come with climate change. It’s an indication that there’s a growing consensus on the environment in the UK even as lawmakers remain deeply divided about how the nation should leave the European Union (EU).

“We are not asking people to lead a miserable life,” John Gummer, a former Conservative lawmaker who chairs the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), told reporters in London before the report was released recently. “We are looking to having as fulfilled, as different, as various a life as we have today and to do it in a way in which we take respect for the future.”

Sensing a lack of commitment from the British government, thousands of protesters from Extinction Rebellion took to the streets of London in April, blocking several main thoroughfares in a call for reaching net-zero emissions by 2025. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has said ministers should declare a climate emergency.

Ministers from governments across the political spectrum have traditionally endorsed suggestions from the committee. The government will consider the report and release a detailed response sometime in the future. Greg Clark, the Cabinet minister in charge of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, signalled that ministers are likely to endorse at least some of the findings.

“This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely,” Clark said in a statement. Industry and environmental groups generally embraced the report’s findings, saying the government should now make clear what changes it will enshrine in law.

“The CCC’s analysis makes for a sobering read,” said Roz Bulleid, head of climate and environment policy at the manufacturers lobby group Make UK. “The key issue for manufacturers will be the policies and support mechanisms put in place to meet any net-zero target, particularly how they ensure continued international competitiveness and spur innovation and investment in low carbon technologies.”

The report suggested that:

  Electric vehicles should replace ones runningon petrol or diesel by 2035 or earlier.

• Coal should be phased out of the power grid in the 2020s, with renewables taking a bigger share.

• Carbon-capture and storage plants should be built early in the next decade and expanded to absorb more emissions from remaining fossil-fuel plants.

• Trees should be planted at a pace of 30,000ha each year, double the current rate.

• Buildings should draw heat from under- ground pumps and electricity, phasing out boilers fuelled by natural gas.

• Consumers should reduce food waste and eat things that require less carbon, prioritising plant-based nutrients over meat.

• Emissions cuts should be done without offsets from international carbon markets.

The committee called on government to “vigorously pursue an ambition target” of net-zero emissions. The EU, France, Denmark and New Zealand are considering similar measures. Only Britain and France are suggesting limits that apply both for aviation and shipping.

Momentum to act on climate issues has been building since a panel of scientists convened by the United Nations warned last year that allowing temperatures to increase more than 1.5°C would bring vast changes to the world’s ecosystems — and lower crop yields in most countries. While almost 200 nations signed up to voluntary emissions limits in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, tangible policy shifts have been slower to materialise. — Bloomberg