Net Zero: Why wait until 2050?

Business Green

Published: 28th June 2019

Full article here (paywall)

Full article below:

A heatwave or thunderous downpours – the weather at Glastonbury has always been unpredictable. But extreme weather patterns and events are now becoming the new norm, not just here but across the globe, driven by climate change.

Come rain or shine, I will be joining a BBC sponsored debate on climate at this year’s most famous of festivals. This will look at tactics to secure the actions and timescales needed to address the climate emergency. And we certainly need some urgent action.

There seems to have been a flurry of excitement from businesses over the government’s 2050 carbon neutral target; the announcement was met with warm words from the CBI.

But the 2050 target isn’t the bold measure some claim it to be.

Firstly, the 2050 goal is planned to be achieved in part by international carbon credits, thereby shifting the burden onto developing countries.

Secondly, there are those in government, like Philip Hammond, keen to pour cold water on the target, claiming it would cost too much to achieve. This is in contrast to what the Stern Review and many other reports since have said which is that the benefits of strong action on the climate emergency far outweigh the costs of not acting.

Thirdly, the UK government can hardly claim to be leaders in the field. A recent analysis by the European Climate Foundation which looked at EU member states National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) places the UK as 21st out of 28 EU members. It points to the UK lacking clear emissions, renewable energy, and energy efficiency targets and a failure to specify when fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out.

The record June temperatures sweeping across Europe should alert us to the fact climate change is happening now and we need to aim for carbon neutrality way before 2050.

It was depressing to see EU countries fail to agree even the distant 2050 target. The failure to achieve unanimity was thanks to climate laggards Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Estonia who are more interested in saving their coal industries than they are in saving the planet.

However, over in Finland, something rather different is happening. The country has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2035. This has happened because Greens are in government, winning 20 seats under a proportional electoral system and claiming three ministries: foreign, environment and international aid.

The actions planned to achieve this target aren’t rocket science but are happening because there’s the political will. Finland will invest in renewable energy, including wind, solar, and bioenergy, while heating and transport will be electrified.

The town of Li in northern Finland has set the benchmark, seeking to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2020. The town has ended the use of fossil fuels and has invested heavily in geothermal, solar and wind energy projects which have not only benefitted the climate but also generated a profit of half a million euros a year.

The government also want to establish a clear link between reducing carbon emissions and improving welfare. They plan to raise €730m (£650m) through taxes, including on fossil fuels. This money will be used not only for the carbon reduction programme but also to reduce inequality and boost spending on education, pensions and social services.

Finland is demonstrating that an ambitious plan of action on reducing carbon emissions can be good not only for the climate but also for wellbeing. This is at the heart of the Green New Deal – an economic package Greens have championed for many years but one that is only now gaining traction.

This aims to create high skilled, well-paid jobs and improve welfare while addressing the climate emergency. It would involve, for example, a huge national home insulation programme, bringing jobs to every community across the country while reducing fuel bills and ending the scourge of fuel poverty. It would mean investing in cycle lanes in our cities so cutting the costs of ill health by encouraging people to be more active.

All of which begs the question: why wait until 2050 to bring about a better society and planet for all?