Claire Perry to Instruct Committee on Climate Change to Scope Net Zero Goal

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UK Climate Minister says government will ask climate watchdog to consider how UK could meet 1.5C Paris target

Later this year the UK government will formally ask its official climate experts, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), to explore the potential for the UK to tighten its emission reduction targets to bring them in line with international goals, Energy and Climate Minister Claire Perry announced today.

Speaking during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) taking place in London this week, Perry said she would instruct the CCC to report on the implications of the Paris Agreement’s target to limit a rise in global average temperature to “well below” 2C and aim for 1.5C.

“After the IPCC’s report later this year, we will be seeking the advice of the UK’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets,” Perry said.

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act the UK already has a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, against 1990 levels, which is technically consistent with Paris goals to limit warming to below 2C.

But there have been growing calls for the government to boost its national targets in light of the Paris Agreement’s target for reducing annual emissions to ‘net zero’ during the second half of the century, which would require anthropogenic emissions to be balanced by the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Campaign group Plan B is currently pursuing a legal challenge against the government in a bid to get the law strengthened, while research from the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute last month also backed a net zero goal.

In March 2016 former Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom promised the UK would enshrine a net-zero emissions goal into UK law, but following the Brexit vote and last year’s election plans stalled.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the IPCC – is due to release a report on the global implications of the 1.5C target in September. Perry said she would instruct the CCC to look at how the UK would meet such a goal after that report is released. The CCC will not only evaluate the UK’s current target in light of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but also latest science and technology, both of which have moved on fast in the 10 years since the Climate Change Act was first agreed.

If it does opt for a tougher goal, the UK government will have to act quickly to give the country the best chance of achieving faster decarbonisation. According to the LSE researchers, a fresh target would need to be in place by 2020 to coincide with the submission of revised ‘nationally determined contributions’ to the Paris Agreement and the CCC’s advice on the sixth carbon budget.

The UK is the first G7 country to formally promise to explore a net zero goal, and polling research suggests the move has strong public support. Conservative environmental think tank Bright Blue this week released analysis of polling from Opinium suggesting that 64 per cent of UK adults agree the UK should aim to cut its emissions to zero over the next few decades.

The survey, which questioned more than 4,000 adults, found that 51 per cent of people are more concerned about climate change today than a decade ago, climbing to 57 per cent among the under 40s.

“A net zero target is supported by a clear majority of the public, including Conservative voters, while concern about climate change is particularly high among younger voters,” Bright Blue head of research Sam Hall said. “By adopting a net zero target, the government is therefore seizing a great opportunity to appeal to key younger voters without trading off existing voters.”

Former climate diplomat and CEO of the European Climate Foundation Laurence Tubiana, today urged other nations to follow the UK’s lead.

“10 years after the UK pioneered its world-first Climate Change Act, today’s announcement shows that once again it is the British government looking to lead the world on climate change,” she said. “For a safe climate we need all governments to aim for cutting pollution to net zero levels by 2050. This decision to review Britain’s long-term climate target sends a strong message to the EU and other big economies that London is committed to the Paris Agreement, and now it’s time they too considered what more they can do.”

Reaction among other campaigners and climate experts was also almost universally positive. Ed Matthew, associate director at environmental think tank E3G, said a net zero goal would “cement the UK as the global leader in the battle against climate change”.

Former environment secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party Lord Michael Howard also welcomed the news. “The Climate Change Act has proven its worth, but as science and diplomacy move on, it should of course be kept under review – and the tougher international targets agreed at the Paris summit make it likely that the UK’s own target will need to be strengthened,” he said.