An offshore wind farm

How we can reach zero-emissions by 2050: a simple guide

May 3, 2019 - 4min read

On Thursday the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released a highly-anticipated report stating that the UK has the technical capabilities, natural resources, and financial capacity to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero by 2050.

A lofty ambition indeed. And one that requires considerable infrastructural innovation, and billions of pounds in investment. However, the CCC – the government’s official advisor on climate change – believes the goal is achievable. It is also increasingly necessary in order to protect this planet we call home.

In recent years investment in solar and wind power has put the UK in a strong position to deliver a net-zero economy, with significant drops in the cost of renewable energy also contributing to the CCC’s optimism.

“This report would have been absolutely inconceivable just a few years ago. People would have laughed us out of court for suggesting that the target could be so high,” noted Chris Stark, the CCC’s Chief Executive speaking to the BBC after the report’s release.

Setting an example to follow

By leading the global battle against climate change, the UK could inspire other countries to follow suit, greatly reducing the risk of dangerous levels of global warming.

So, what is there to lose? How can the UK go about reaching zero emissions? How will it impact our everyday lives? And what can we do to help, and fight climate change in the process?

Here is a breakdown of some of the CCC’s key directives...

Reaching ‘net zero’

Reaching ‘net zero’ emissions requires balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal, and transforming the current UK landscape.

On the ground CCC directives call for an end to the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2030. The current government target stands at 2040.

The switch up to electric vehicles on the roads means that clean power generation will need to quadruple by 2050. This could be achieved through the building of more offshore wind farms in order to meet the increased demand for green power. Onshore wind farms, a cheaper alternative, remain technically banned in England, and hence a thorny issue.

In the air, the aviation industry – which contributes a whopping seven percent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions – will need to implement fuel efficiency improvements, for example by bringing down the cost of jet fuels made from waste materials. Limiting the industry’s future growth is also necessary.  

The CCC also calls for the phasing out of domestic natural gas networks by 2025, while we should all keep our thermostats no higher than 19C in winter! Electrified heating will become more common, but hydrogen could provide the long-term future to natural gas.

Transforming industry

An enormous push is needed to decarbonise industry and the UK’s electricity system. This requires investment in carbon capture technology, particularly in the steel, paper, and aluminium industries.

The increased burden placed on the national electricity grid will also necessitate investment in transmission and distribution networks, and greater interconnections with neighbouring European countries.

The benefits of decarbonisation are wide reaching and will lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in addition to health benefits including cleaner air and water.

Cutting out the beef

Of all industries, perhaps agriculture requires the most wide-sweeping changes.

Sheep and cattle are a major source of greenhouse gases. However, the CCC believes that emissions from the sector can be cut if farmers reduce pasture land, increase woodland, feed cattle food that creates less methane (such as seaweed), and grow more biofuel crops.

Cuts to dairy, beef, and lamb consumption will also be necessary, with the CCC predicting a 20 percent drop by 2050. That means more meat-free meals for you and me!

The sheer scale of change required to achieve the CCC’s 2050 goals is enormous. For example, in order for the agriculture industry to offset its greenhouse gas production, 1.5 billion trees will have to be planted in the next 30 years. Yup, that’s not a typo: 1.5 billion.

But, ultimately, we are talking about the future of the planet! Here is a link to the CCC’s full report for your own perusal.

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