What is Net Zero: Beginners Guide

Climate change has been discussed and debated for many years, scientists now universally agree that we are facing a climate emergency and we need to drastically reduce our global emissions.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that drastic action is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.  There is no doubt we are already witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change with wildfires and severe flooding across the world.  The maximum 1.5 degrees increase set within the Paris Climate Agreement would mean that whilst we would continue to see an increase in these destructive events, any higher than 1.5 degree and these events are catastrophic, the IPCC predicts that an increase of 2 degrees would result in 1.7bn more people experiencing deadly heat waves at least once in every five years; a further 10cm rise in sea levels; almost complete destruction of the coral reefs that support our marine environment.

2019 was an important catalyst year in the fight against climate change.  Then UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, updated the 2008 Climate Change Act committing the UK to achieving Net Zero by 2050.  Quite simply, Net Zero means we need to achieve a balance between the emissions produced and the emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

To put into context the scale of the challenge to reach net zero, in our baseline year of 1990, the UK’s annual emissions were approximately 800MtCO²e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent); for 2019 we had reduced this to 454.8MtCO²e.

Net Zero Time and Plan?

A Net Zero target recognises that not all emissions can be reduced to zero so we also need to compensate for those remaining, this is known as offsetting and includes activities such as planting more trees.  The UK government has committed £625m towards tree planting and peat restoration to support this.  Other technology is emerging, such as carbon capture and storage, though this is currently expensive and unproven.

The UK government has produced a “ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution” to achieve Net Zero; this plan includes aims for green energy, low-carbon transport, nature, and innovative technology.

The ten points included in the plan are:

  • Offshore wind: Producing enough offshore wind to power every home, quadrupling how much we produce to 40GW by 2030, supporting up to 60,000 jobs.
  • Hydrogen: Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade.
  • Nuclear: Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.
  • Electric vehicles: Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases including in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles.
  • Public transport, cycling and walking: Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport of the future.
  • Jet Zero and greener maritime: Supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.
  • Homes and public buildings: Making our homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, whilst creating 50,000 jobs by 2030, and a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.
  • Carbon capture: Becoming a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030, equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today.
  • Nature: Protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs.
  • Innovation and finance: Developing the cutting-edge technologies needed to reach these new energy ambitions and make the City of London the global centre of green finance.

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