Sales of new gas boilers should be banned by 2033 and Britons will need to reduce their meat and dairy consumption by a fifth in just nine years to set the UK on a path to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, according to the government’s climate advisers.
Britain will also have to match US president-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to decarbonise the power system by 2035, according to a detailed plan from the Climate Change Committee on Wednesday, which recommends sweeping changes for every sector of the economy to “almost entirely” phase out fossil fuels in less than three decades.
The new CCC road map spells out in detail for the first time the significant role consumer behaviour will play in the UK’s efforts to end its contribution to climate change. Until now most emissions cuts achieved since 1990 have been “invisible” to the public as they have largely come though the phase-out of coal-fired power plants.
“More than ever before” future emissions cuts will rely on choices such as slashing meat consumption — which will have to be reduced by nearly 35 per cent by 2050 — driving less and choosing to limit flights, the CCC said. These changes should be encouraged via moves such as public sector bodies offering plant-based options at all meals before alternatives, “such as pricing”, are considered, it added.
The advice of the CCC is not legally binding, but has exerted a strong influence on the decisions of the UK government, which has always followed its advice when setting the five-year “carbon budgets” required under the Climate Change Act.
Sales of polluting diesel heavy goods vehicles — which were not included in the government’s 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans — should be phased out “no later” than 2040.
Steel and cement production will have to reach “near zero” emissions by 2035 and 2040, respectively, while tree-planting rates will also have to nearly quadruple in 14 years under the CCC’s plan, which it describes as a “world-first” route map for a fully decarbonised nation.
These measures should contribute to oil and gas demand falling by 85 per cent and 70 per cent by 2050, respectively, adding further pressure on UK oil and gas producers to shift to clean energy.
“What we say to the oil and gas industry is it would be a good idea to look very carefully at the realities of life,” said Lord Deben, chair of the CCC, adding that fossil fuel producers “have to become wholly different businesses”.
But Rod McKenzie from the Road Haulage Association, trade association for the road transport and logistics industry, said the “technology doesn’t exist today” that would allow the largest long-distance lorries to run on batteries. “2050 was ambitious, but 2040 feels like setting the bar too high,” he said.
The UK’s climate targets are among the toughest of any major economy in the world, ranking second only to Sweden, according to a recent list compiled by Germanwatch, a German non-profit.
To achieve net zero by 2050 “at the latest”, the committee recommends the government adopt an interim target of cutting all greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 relative to 1990 levels — a 63 per cent reduction on 2019.
But to meet that interim goal — the sixth “carbon budget” the government is required to commit to law under the Climate Change Act — emissions will have to fall at a faster pace in the next 30 years than the UK has achieved in the past three decades.
“It’s ambitious. It’s very challenging. It’s also, we think, entirely feasible,” insisted Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC. He believes net zero can now be achieved at a lower cost, thanks largely to the decreased cost of offshore wind, which will form the “backbone” of the electricity system by 2050.
Annual investment in creating a low-carbon economy will have to rise to £50bn a year by 2030 from £10bn today, but Mr Stark argued there would also be a saving to the UK economy from not spending on fossils fuels, as well as from increased energy efficiency.
The committee puts the net annualised cost of reaching net zero at about 0.5 per cent of GDP through to 2050, down from an estimate last year of 1-2 per cent of GDP.
“It will be the private sector that will do much of the investment, but it will be the government that will set the tone,” said Lord Deben, describing the costs as “manifestly reasonable”.
Industry bodies and analysts argued that many of the targets would be extremely stretching.
Gareth Stace, director-general of the industry body UK Steel, called decarbonising steel production “an enormous challenge, both technically and commercially, [that] will be very difficult to do by 2035”.
Replacing gas boilers and improving the energy efficiency of homes will cost £10,000 on average per property, the CCC admitted. The most likely alternative is electric heat pumps; just over 1m a year will need to be installed by 2030 — up from the 26,000 currently installed annually. Another option is switching boilers to run on hydrogen produced without emissions. The CCC recommended that all boilers sold from 2025 should be “hydrogen-ready”.
The committee also recommends that from 2030 no new gas-fired power plants be built unless they are fitted with technology such as carbon capture and storage, which is yet to be deployed at scale in Britain.
Renewable electricity will instead account for up to 90 per cent of power generation, although Mr Stark said there would be “enough room” for another new nuclear plant, Sizewell C in Suffolk.
“It is arguable that the easy part [of decarbonising the power system] is already over,” said Robert Gross, professor of energy policy and technology at Imperial College London. We will “need to work much harder” at the challenge of balancing intermittent renewables, he added.
A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said they welcomed the committee’s advice in the sixth carbon budget. “As the committee recognises, the UK continues to lead the world in tackling climate change and we will consider the committee’s advice carefully as we take further opportunities to cut emissions, create new jobs and build back greener from the pandemic.”
Additional reporting by Peter Campbell