The UK Government introduced an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008, on 12 June, which will see the UK cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050 – in just 30 years’ time. The UK is the first G7 nation to legislate this target.
Climate Change Committee recommendations
The announcement, by outgoing UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, comes as a result of recent recommendations (report, 2 May 2019), from the UK Government’s independent advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The CCC advised the UK government to legislate for a new emissions target of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050.
The CCC were charged by the UK Government to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets, following a major report from the UN climate change panel (IPPC) in 2018 (who made recommendations on limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (report; 2018)). The 1.5C rise is considered the threshold for dangerous climate change. The CCC report advised that the UK, which already had a target of an 80% emissions cut by 2050, can achieve the new target at the same cost, so 1-2 % of GDP (due to the falling costs of offshore windfarms, batteries and other technologies). The CCC concluded that the recommended targets are achievable, but only if clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay.
Which country is next?
On 1 May 2019, the UK Parliament declared a ‘climate change emergency’, which made the UK the first national Parliament in the world to do so. Other major economies are expected to follow the UK’s leadership, as Laurence Tubiana, an architect of the UN Paris climate agreement, told the BBC: “This is a historic commitment that will reverberate right around the world.” In fact, similar pledges will be necessary from other nations if the world is to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industralised levels, as agreed by the UN Paris Agreement. Other countries also showing climate ambitions, include Sweden, which has legislated net zero by 2045. Finland too, recently also committed to be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Norway by 2030. The only countries to have already achieved net-zero emissions are those with massive forest cover, such as Bhutan, in South Asia.
Action is needed, at speed and scale…
Delivering a global net zero economy, however, will require more than words and laws. It requires action, at both speed and scale. Today, most of the UK’s carbon emissions have come from the power sector. Building and transport emissions have barely reduced over the last 5 years, and the UK is currently not on course to even meet its current targets of 80% reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels (i.e. missing its fourth and fifth carbon budgets), let alone a net zero target. To achieve this net zero target within just 30 years, lifestyles, homes, transport, and every sector of the economy, including travel and tourism, will need to be significantly transformed, at accelerating speed and scale, to cut GHG’s to zero as far as possible to meet these challenging targets. Where emissions cannot be cut completely, the ability for the UK to use international carbon credits to offset Britain’s emissions have been included. This Guardian article makes interesting reading on what will be needed to become a UK net zero nation.
Climate change, travel and tourism
Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas MP, highlights, in a Guardian opinion piece, that there was no mention of aviation (or shipping), in the announcements on 12 June, but that aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of UK emissions, doubling since 1990. Reverting back to the CCC, they highlight in their Report, that that the number of flights we take can continue to grow, at least in the short term, provided that emissions come down in other areas. Environmental campaigners, however say that the decision to allow Heathrow to expand, will wipe out any chance of reducing the UK’s overall transport emissions. Meanwhile, the airline industry seeks out solutions, such as supporting R&D into low-carbon fuels. KLM, for example, have recently announced its commitment, and 10 year plan, to develop and purchase 75,000 tonnes of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) a year (article; June 2019).
A study, in 2018, by researchers at the University of Sydney, in Australia, concluded that tourism has expanded so rapidly that it now accounts for 8% of the greenhouse gases; up to four times previous estimates. The study estimated the annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of tourism in 160 countries. The researchers conclude that the tourism industry emits around 4.5 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. The study highlights previous estimates varying from 1 to 2 Gt per year, suggesting that the new estimates are higher because, as well as, direct emissions from air travel, they also included indirect emissions. These include emissions from food production for tourists eating on holiday, hotel maintainence, and souvenirs. In 2013 this added an extra 1 to 2 gigatonnes.
Elsewhere, there have been calls for the Travel and Tourism sector to declare a Climate Emergency (WTM blog; 2019).