19 Aug Reaching net-zero requires the government support for people to change behaviours
The IPCC has warned that urgent action is required to stop climate change and that the UK is running out of time to reach its net-zero emission targets. The IPCC explains that human activity has accelerated the climate crisis and is primarily responsible for the more intense weather patterns experienced.
The IPCC report does include the hope that if we can reach our net-zero targets, our global climate could stabilise relatively quickly. The UK has committed to a legally binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050, a deadline that scientists worldwide believe is critical to meet to maintain any rise in temperature to below 1.5 degrees. There is also an additional target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 seal levels.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business and Energy Secretary, explained that the UK Government was on the path to reaching its net-zero goals, yet there are industry concerns that this isn’t necessarily the case. National emissions have declined by nearly 40% compared to 1990 levels, predominantly driven by the reductions in coal-fired power within the electricity system. In recent years, however, the rate of carbon reduction has been showing signs of slowing, with emissions declining by just 2.8% compared to 2018.
Climate specialists warn that for the UK to reach its 2035 target and remain on track for net-zero by 205, urgent action is necessary to force emissions reductions in industries beyond electricity. The concern is that for many leaders, this required reducing emissions in some challenging areas. The transport industry is regarded as the most polluting industry within the UK economy, and emissions have remained relatively stable over the last twenty years. Creating a dramatic shift in this industry requires a massive transition towards electric vehicles. This includes greener transport options for large vehicle fleets and shipping and implementing further measures within the aviation industry.
While the number of electric vehicles on our roads is increasing consistently, the movement towards a zero-emission automotive industry isn’t happening quick enough to reach our net-zero targets. Meanwhile, the growing trend towards larger SUV vehicles directly impacts the carbon gains made from people adopting electric vehicles. In terms of aviation, there are campaigns from climate and environmental activists urging the UK Government to implement additional policies to discourage the number of cheap flights available across the UK and replacing them with alternative, green transport methods. At the moment, though, it seems that government policy is being relatively slow to respond to these demands.
Meanwhile, the housing industry is one particular industry that is falling behind its intended schedule for decarbonisation. The UK is regarded for having a relatively high level of dated housing stock that needs improving. This results in a higher demand for gas heating during the winter months, and increasingly more so, air conditioning in the summer. Other governments have attempted to incentivise homeowners and encourage people to start insulating their properties and switching to greener heating systems, but overall success has been relatively slow. Climate experts believe that delaying this switch is no longer an option, emphasising that implementing a nationwide retrofit programme is a critical move.
Other industries such as agriculture continue to come under the spotlight. For the UK to reach net-zero, it needs to ensure more land is set aside for carbon-sequestering rather than contributing to more emissions. Essentially this means, providing less room for agriculture, especially grazing land for cattle. Ministers are creating a system of subsidies for farmers that will incentivise green activities, but climate experts are concerned whether this will drive enough significant changes.
Discussion on reducing meat and dairy consumption and its impact on emission reductions continue, but ministers are cautious of instructing voters on what to eat. The majority of progress on reducing emissions in the UK generates behind the scenes, as in reality, securing power via wind instead of coal makes little difference to the lives of individuals.
The next stage of the transition towards net-zero requires more focus on people’s behaviours, what they eat, the car they drive and how to heat our properties. Political leaders have been reluctant to support these changes, but climate experts believe these measures are now a critical part of the journey towards net-zero. With climate deadlines approaching and the international credibility of the UK on the line, these challenging decisions need to be acted upon immediately.