UK Committee on Climate Change calls for the country to be net zero by 2050

© Committee on Climate Change

Is it too little, too late, or is it a road map that other nations should follow?

In 2008 the British Government set up the Committee on Climate Change, composed of "experts in the fields of climate science, economics, behavioural science and business," to advise governments on "emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change." The CCC has just released a huge report laying out plans for achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Activists are already claiming that it is too little and way too late, and they are probably right. But it is a road map that is tougher than I have seen published anywhere else, looking at many different factors.

However, there are some big holes that the activists are pointing out, mainly related to driving and flying, noting that it's "all so convenient to pretend that nobody will have to change their lives very much."

So, in buildings they call for greater efficiency, and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, but never mention urban planning or the sprawl of single family housing, or building on a Vienna model of really efficient low-rise multiple family housing, or going seriously efficient with a standard like Passive House. They call for moving away from fluorinated gases while never mentioning that, with the exception of a few CO2 heat pumps, they all are full of fluorinated gases.

See: Passivhaus is Climate Action

kids in cargo bikekids in Copenhagen cargo bike/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

On road transport, they focus on electric cars, which they say is easy to do because "average trip distances are currently 8-12 miles" but never mention e-bikes which could also do that distance easily for the majority of people. They never mention a Copenhagen model that was developed in the '70s as an alternative to burning gasoline. They do mention that "shifting to more sustainable modes of transport (walking and cycling) could be a cost-effective alternative to private car ownership depending on location" but never mention building infrastructure to support that, to make it viable for almost every location.

See: Bikes and e-bikes are climate action

They talk a lot about aviation but really do not know what to do with it, suggesting only that emissions can be limited through improvements to fuel efficiency, constraints on demand growth, and switching to alternative fuels.

They don't even count it in their graph of UK carbon emissions. In fact, they totally throw in the towel on aviation and say "current trends suggest a large share of emissions from aviation will have to be compensated through reductions elsewhere or through emissions removal from the atmosphere."


When all else fails, the report's favourite answer is hydrogen – for industry, heavy vehicles, and "heating on the coldest days", which is dumb because they then have to maintain the whole gas piping network and the boilers. When you dig into the technical report, they propose that by 2050 there will be 29 gigawatts of hydrogen power from "advanced methane reformation", i.e. natural gas, combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS), along with up to 19 GW made through electrolysis. This is a fantasy; the volume of carbon to be stored is huge, the entire distribution network would have to be replaced, so they will basically keep pumping natural gas. This is why we have to electrify everything instead of pretending we can switch to magical carbon-free hydrogen.

But it's better than nothing.

Many critics are appalled, noting that there are so many holes in it. Prof Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre is quoted in the Science Media Centre:

What’s not to like – business as usual, albeit with a sizeable green twist, and influential high-emitting groups left unencumbered by policies tailored towards their carbon-intensive lifestyles. More disturbing still, clever use of the CCC’s report will see it used to support Heathrow expansion, shale gas developed and even ongoing offshore oil and gas exploration.

But others think that it is grand, like Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, who says:

Make no mistake, this report will change your life. If the meticulous and robust expert advice here is heeded it will deliver a revolution in every facet of our lives, from how we power our homes and travel to work, to the food we buy and the holidays we take.

The biggest problem is whether any nation is willing to go even this far. Or as Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, University College London, noted:

The only way to stabilize the climate is to achieve net zero emissions. This new report shows that it is possible. The question now is if the political will is there to take on the vested interests that will try to stop the UK reaching net zero fast enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Who knows about political will? The UK just declared a climate emergency, and the Extinction Rebellion has certainly showed that there is a constituency for this, and they don't think it goes nearly far enough or fast enough.

And while there are serious issues, it's a road map. It's a start. So far as I can tell, that's more than anyone else has done.

full infographic© Committee on Climate Change

UK Committee on Climate Change calls for the country to be net zero by 2050
Is it too little, too late, or is it a road map that other nations should follow?

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