The UK has committed to producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Theresa May has announced.
The commitment will be made in an amendment to the Climate Change Act and will ensure that the UK will stop its contributions to climate change in just over 30 years’ time. If enforced, the law will mean that the UK will offset any carbon emissions after 2050 by absorbing the same amount from the atmosphere, through either planting trees or using other technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
Downing Street has said that this move makes the UK the first of the G7 nations to legislate for net zero emissions, although other countries are expected to follow suit. There will be a review in five years to see if other countries are setting similar targets and if the UK energy industry is facing unfair competition.
“As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change,” said Mrs May. “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. Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”
However, the UK will be allowed to achieve its goal of net zero carbon emissions partly by using international carbon credits. These are tradable permits that represent the right to produce one tonne of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, which allow the UK to continue to produce domestic emissions by paying for cuts in other countries.
“As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it is right that the UK is the world’s first major economy to commit to completely end its contribution to climate change, but trying to shift the burden to developing nations through international carbon credits undermines that commitment,” said Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK. “This type of offsetting has a history of failure and is not, according to the government’s climate advisers, cost-efficient.”
Rebecca Long Bailey, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, said: “While this announcement is welcome in theory, in practice it comes from a Conservative Government that is off track to meet existing climate targets, that has no plans for legislation or investment needed to cut emissions, and that has dismantled the UK renewable energy sector while pushing fracking. The government is a bit like a marathon runner with the wrong shoes, the wrong diet and no training expecting to break the world record; it looks less like ambition and more like delusion.”