Will Britain Hit ‘Net-Zero’ Emissions By 2050?

Maddy White
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Claire Perry, the UK’s minister for energy and clean growth has pledged a ‘net-zero’ emissions target for the country. A realistic aim or a too ambitious target?

Every year, net emissions targets are set for London and every year, boroughs seemingly compete to see who can reach the legal net limit the fastest. The winner for 2018? Brixton, who after not even one month reached their annual emission quota.

The Climate Change Act, which was passed by the UK parliament twelve years ago, committed the country to reducing 80 percent of its emissions by 2050 from previous levels recorded in 1990. Whilst it is on track to hit this target, it will still be some way off ‘net-zero’, which would require the UK to produce emissions at the same rate they are removed.

But minister for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, believes this is a possibility. In a cover letter written to the UN’s climate change agency, she said: “The UK will need to legislate for a net-zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future to provide legal certainty on where the UK is heading.”

London typically surpasses legal yearly emissions. Photo by David Holt

Emission equilibrium

Ian Byrne, the chief deputy executive of the National Energy Foundation thinks the net-zero target is achievable, “yes, it could happen” he told The Versed.

The pledge for zero emissions has been prompted by the Paris Agreement, a deal signed in 2016 by every country – apart from Syria and Nicaragua who’ve now signed – to decrease emissions on an international scale and to keep global warming under control. US president Donald Trump has since made the decision to leave the agreement. The UK is the first of the G7 nations to commit to a net-zero emissions target.

Sweden or Denmark are likely to hit net-zero first, given their historically proactive approach to climate change and the fact that they have already pledged similar targets. Will the UK follow their lead and reach emissions equilibrium? Britain’s general public – particularly its inner-city residents – would surely prefer not having to hold their breath to shield themselves from the hot fumes of bus exhausts on daily commutes.

But Byrne continued: “Is it likely though? No. It is certainly technically possible but it will require a lot more commitment from politicians and people in power. It’s likely the UK will be one of the nearest to zero emissions.”

Preemraff Lysekil, the largest oil refinery in Sweden, who are on track to net-zero emissions. Photo by Lars Falkdalen Lindahl

An impossible task?

Even if the UK does reach its target, the earth’s average temperature will still rise too quickly if others don’t commit, particularly ones who are yet to act on the Paris Agreement. “The USA under its current leader is dragging its feet and India are responsible for a lot of emissions too,” Byrne said.

Perry said in a speech on improving climate action in the Commonwealth that the UK is going to provide guidance for other countries. “The UK is leading the world in tackling climate change while growing our national income, ensuring we are best placed to help other countries reduce harmful carbon emissions.”

Byrne explained that, hypothetically, if the UK was to meet its target it would need to utilise “wind, solar and more sea-based energy, like tidal power.” Renewable energy could be the source to providing alternative power sources to those which emit greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide burnt from fossil fuels, methane and nitrous oxide.

However, he added: “It is more a problem of storage, as that’s what this we are lacking. It’s not getting the energy, it is finding somewhere to put it. It’s easy to store on a domestic scale, but if we want to hit this target we need other options of where to put this energy.”

To have buses pass by without disturbing your breathing pattern would be a welcome change. But if Bryne is right, the UK will need somewhere to store the energy from renewable sources, and other countries will need to commit to similar pledges and act on the Paris Agreement. So, it is possible. If only in theory. Now we just have to wait three decades to find out if it becomes a reality.

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