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The Sixth Carbon Budget

World-first report serves as a map to net zero and shows ‘the UK is open for low-carbon business’
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
The Sixth Carbon Budget

In a world first, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has today (09 December) presented the a detailed route to a fully decarbonised nation.

Last year, the UK became the first major economy to make net zero emissions law. In its new 1,000-page report, the CCC sets out the path to that goal over the next three decades, including the first ever detailed assessment of the changes that will result and, crucially, the key milestones that must be met.

Net zero savings

The Sixth Carbon Budget shows that polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. Just 18 months ago this was the UK’s 2050 goal.

To deliver this, a major investment programme across the country must be delivered, in large measure by the private sector.

That investment will also be the key to the UK’s economic recovery in the next decade. In many areas we will see real consumer savings as the nation begins to use fewer resources and adopts cleaner, more efficient technologies, like electric cars, to replace their fossil-fuelled predecessors.

The CCC finds that these savings substantially reduce the cost of net zero compared with previous assessments – now down to less than 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years.

This is thanks not only to the falling cost of offshore wind, but also to a range of new low-cost, low-carbon solutions in every sector.

‘The Sixth Carbon Budget is a clear message to the world that the UK is open for low-carbon business. It’s ambitious, realistic and affordable. This is the right carbon budget for the UK at the right time. We deliver our recommendations to government with genuine enthusiasm, knowing that Britain’s decisive zero-carbon transition brings real benefits to our people and our businesses while making the fundamental changes necessary to protect our planet.

‘As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as President of the next UN climate talks.’

Climate Change Committee Chairman

Jobs in low-carbon industries

The CCC’s message to government is clear: the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change.

By the early 2030s, every new car and van and every replacement boiler must be zero carbon; by 2035, all UK electricity production will be zero carbon.

Modern low-carbon industries will grow – producing hydrogen; capturing carbon; creating new woodlands and renovating and decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes. These industries provide hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the UK.

The CCC concludes that these changes are feasible and affordable but only if they are led by decisive action from government – now.

The process must also be fair and just; the report includes important new insights into how the costs and the benefits of net zero can be shared more evenly.

These are fundamentally desirable goals, bringing wider benefits including better health and an improved natural environment.

With bold new climate commitments from China and, soon, the US, over half of global greenhouse emissions will shortly be covered by net zero targets.

This has brought the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach. If the CCC’s recommendations are adopted by Ministers next year, the Sixth Carbon Budget will position the UK as a true global climate leader, as it prepares to host heads of state for the next major climate summit in Glasgow.

‘The CCC may have set out its paths to net zero but we’ll need much more legwork from the government over this parliament to reach it. Doing so will be critical for successful international climate leadership from the UK in 2021. While some progress has been made recently there remains a yawning gap between our targets over the next decade and action needed to meet them straight away.  

‘Not only is immediate action to make our homes warmer and our power renewable necessary for the climate, but it creates huge numbers of jobs, and the costs across the economy are progressively falling.’

Policy Director at Greenpeace UK

The road to net zero

According to the CCC, the Sixth Carbon Budget can be met through four key steps:

Take up of low-carbon solutions

People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions as high-carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s, all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040, all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them under the sea.

Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies

UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years and doubling – or even trebling – demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.

3. Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities

The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and wellbeing.

4. Land and greenhouse gas removals

There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced today. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land today to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.

Under the UK Climate Change Act, the UK must reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.

The Act also requires the government to set a new Carbon Budget every five years, following the advice of the Climate Change Committee. The Sixth Carbon Budget must be legislated by June 2021.

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