“We’ve never been on track for net zero. I think the better question is: could we be on track for net zero?”
As part of the Campaign for Social Science’s ongoing project, Election 24: ideas for change based on social science evidence, the Academy, in partnership with the University of Glasgow, co-hosted an event exploring the challenges ahead to reach the UK’s net zero commitments.
Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the UK Climate Change Committee, delivered a keynote address covering net zero challenges for both the UK and internationally, the UK’s current position in its net zero journey and the policy actions needed for the UK Government to achieve its net zero ambitions.
Chris began by summarising why we need to reach net zero and outlined what a four degree warmer world could look like, including increases in wildfires, flooding and food insecurity. He also drew on research conducted by the Climate Change Committee to outline current trajectories of global temperature increases based on whether nationally determined contributions from the Paris Agreement and net zero targets were met.
He said, “The existing policies line [on the graph] gets you to 2.7oC. Remember, we’ve warmed the planet by just over 1oC at the moment. 2.7oC is genuinely catastrophic. It is not an outcome that we should try to see happen. It would be very difficult to describe how bad it would be, but it’s worth knowing that is almost a full degree centigrade lower than if we’d made this appraisal before the Paris Agreement was signed. So, there is some progress happening.”
Chris then focused on the UK, looking at emissions produced within the UK territory and highlighted some of the UK Government’s successes in decarbonising the energy sector as part of its net zero journey. But, as he pointed out, the relative success of this sector masks slower transitions occurring elsewhere and so more decisive policy action in other sectors is required over the next eight years to reach the UK’s net zero target by 2023.
Chris said, “If you take the power sector out because we know that’s been working, we’ve got good policy in place for that. Look at what’s happening outside of the power sector, it’s [total emissions reduction] only 1% per year. So, we’ve been reducing emissions by 1% per year [in the eight years prior to 2022]. That needs to quadruple over the next eight years if we’re going to hit the 2030 target.”
He then moved on to how the UK can reach net zero through policy decisions, the challenges faced, including the distributional challenges of spreading costs and benefits across sectors, but also the opportunities provided by investing in decarbonising the economy.
Finally, Chris ended on highlighting the need for honest conversations around the policies needed to fulfil the UK’s net zero commitments. He said, “We do need to upgrade buildings in this country. We need to change the transport system. We’ve got to confront things like low carbon farming, changes in consumption, changes in industry that go with it. We can do all of that. We know how to do it. But we’re not going to be able to do it unless we have this grown-up discussion about it.”
Following Chris’ keynote, a panel of social scientists and industry representatives discussed the broad domestic political consensus and the transition towards net zero.
Watch the recordings below to hear more from Chris.