Our response to the current COVID-19 pandemic aside, climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a society. NASA recently reported that 2020 was the hottest year on record. This follows on from 2009-2019 being the hottest decade on record, with consistent increases year on year.
Why does this matter? Simply put, we need to change to avoid irreversible climate change which will devastate habitat and create social displacement alongside economic and social disruption.
Net zero means achieving a balance between the carbon emissions produced and their removal from the atmosphere. In 2019 the UK became the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.
The pace for the transition to net zero is accelerating.
It is important that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term to avoid the problem of higher cumulative emissions. Cumulative emissions are the total sum of CO2 emissions produced using fossil fuels and cement. This is important, because it is the volume of these emissions which increases the severity of climate impact.
When looking to address the challenge of moving away from high carbon intensity we require a whole systems perspective and approach. No one technology is the answer to decarbonisation and energy sources are interdependent, so no one sector, or vector can work in isolation to achieve the change required to become net zero.
Achieving net zero will require large-scale and extensive innovation across the UK energy system. This dictates that major change is required across technology, infrastructure, and behaviour. The Energy Systems Catapult define that successful implementation will mean innovation in new technologies, a new approach to deploying existing technologies, the development of new business models, new consumer products and services, new policies, new regulation, and new market designs.
For markets to deliver on this change, they need frameworks to work within. This is where Government must set strong and firm leadership, but ultimately it will be industry and corporate investors that will drive the transition forward. The transition is an investment challenge, but the Climate Change Committee (CCC) identify that most of the funding will come from the private sector. Therefore, it is important to also articulate the economic benefits of net zero.
From a framework setting perspective, the end of 2020 saw a real momentum shift in the UK path to net zero. In the space of a couple of months, the Government published its 10 point Green Industrial Revolution Plan, announced an increase in the country’s 2030 emissions reduction target to 60%, the CCC published their 6th Carbon Budget which recommends a 78% reductions target by 2035, the Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy were published and the Treasury produced their interim review into net zero which said “a net zero transition is essential to long-term prosperity.” This will be followed up this year with further sector specific analysis including a transport decarbonisation plan, an industrial decarbonisation strategy, a heat and buildings strategy, a hydrogen strategy and a nature strategy.
It feels like we are moving decisively from a theoretical state of should we embrace net zero, to one of defining how practically we will transition. This is positive momentum. We all need to deliver on these commitments as we no longer have the luxury of delaying important decisions. This decade is going to be a crucial one in delivering this ambition.
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