Plans to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 could cost the UK economy £1 trillion, the chancellor Philip Hammond warned Prime Minister Theresa May in a letter.
Adopting a net zero target by 2050 is backed by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK government’s independent advisory panel, and is something that the Prime Minister wants to introduce to parliament next week, just before she steps down, as “one of her most important legacies.”
The target, if adopted, would be the most stringent curb on greenhouse gases in the world and would lead to certain industries becoming uncompetitive without government subsidies.
Initially, the CCC put the cost at £50 billion, this was upped to £70 billion by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and then the chancellor produced the figure of “well in excess of £1tn,” the Financial Times reports, which has seen Hammond’s letter.
“This would almost certainly include increased government spending, meaning less money available for other areas of public spending,” Hammond continued.
The Prime Minister is reported to be bringing the target before the House of Commons to be enshrined in UK law on the 11th June, but it won’t be fully passed until after Brexit has been completed, so it is still some time away.
Liz Truss the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has also warned against rushing the legislation through.
However, the frontrunner for the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, tweeted on Wednesday that he embraced legislating for net zero emissions by 2050.
Even the current target set by the UK government, to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, is not on course to be met without a substantial change in government policy.
The CCC believes that Scotland could reach net zero even earlier, by 2045, because of the scope there for planting large amounts of trees, while Wales with its large farming sector – a big source of carbon – would only be able to reach 95% by 2050.
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change wants to reach net zero well before 2050 and Extinction Rebellion are calling for net zero emissions by 2025.
What Net Zero Means in Practice
A quick look at the facts and it soon becomes clear that reaching carbon emissions of net zero will be extremely difficult and will require cast iron government policies and political will.
For the UK to reach net zero emissions clean energy production from solar, wind and possibly nuclear would have to be quadrupled. All boilers, most of which run on gas, would have to be replaced by hydrogen and electric powered heat pumps and from 2025 no new homes could be connected to the gas grid.
All petrol and diesel cars would have to be banned from sale from 2035 at the latest, although flights would not be banned.
A fifth of all the farmland in the UK would need to be set aside for carbon capture, either woods and forest or restoration of peat bogs or for growing biofuel crops and a total of 1.5 billion new trees would need to be planted.