Where is IGov on Net Zero?
Catherine Mitchell – IGov Team, 3rd May 2019
Given all the discussion over the last few days about when the UK and the world should reach net zero, we thought IGov should be clear on where we stand.
The CCC has said that the UK ‘should set and vigorously pursue an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to ‘net-zero’ by 2050, ending the UK’s contribution to global warming within 30 years. Reflecting their respective circumstances, Scotland should set a net-zero GHG target for 2045 and Wales should target a 95% reduction by 2050 relative to 1990’. It also says that its Budgets are likely to be too ‘loose’ but does not recommend change. Nor does it recommend bringing net zero forward from 2050 because of current credibility issues in reaching that target earlier. As said in yesterday’s blog, the CCC do not spell out the cause of that lack of credibility but it is likely to be the lack of policies and governance – which they do highlight as a central problem.
The IPCC 1.5 degree report has advised (see also here and here) that in order to keep the world’s temperature increases to below to below 1.5oC, the world needs to reach net zero by the 2050s with industrialised nations becoming net zero by the 2040s. It does not specify individual countries. As Myles Allen, a Lead Author of the report, points out if the world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees, and if the current warming of about 0.25 degrees a decade continues, then this does take the world to 1.5 degrees in little over a decade i.e. about 2030. He also says that reaching this point will have more impact on some in the world than others – and in this sense, he says, climate change is not so much an emergency as a justice issue.
Extinction Rebellion has called for the UK to be Net Zero by 2025; and Julia Steinberger in a tweet in response to a James Murray blog has said that she has sympathy with the 2025 date because it is a political and social statement rather than a scientific one. Choosing 2025 does make sense given the need to cut warming rapidly. What date to choose becomes inextricably linked to ‘reality’ and ‘credibility’ of meeting these cuts – and as GB stands, even with enormous political will and social support – being net zero by 2025 is – and we use these words carefully – extremely unlikely.
In parallel to net Zero, the phrase ‘Climate Emergency’ has become a political and social statement, which includes its own meanings – particularly to everyday people. And we in IGov support such a phrasing precisely because of its social and political context.
Both the IPCC and CCC are clear though that, if we are to limit warming to 1.5oC, we have to act now – and it seems to us in IGov that the first policy priority is a serious cross UK roll-out of building retrofit – because this could reduce our emissions significantly and relatively quickly, but also would help to negate potential equity consequences for those most likely to be negatively affected by transformation.
Again, as pointed out in our blog yesterday – IGov has a plan to transform our energy system by turning our not fit for purpose GB energy governance in to a fit-for-purpose one. This is a complex, multi-scale, multi-organisation, multi- energy sector, economy-wide transformation with people at its centre (who have to give their meaningful consent to transformational changes but also have to be more mobilised to be fully part of it). This needs coordination – centralised coordination but also local coordination responding to local circumstances, and middle coordination between the two levels. We think – that whilst most GB institutions are either OK or can be reformed – we do need a new institution to coordinate this transformation.
Getting to net zero by any date requires a combination of governance change – to include institutional change, much more supportive policies, and more direction and leadership from Government to, in turn, confront stranded assets (not just fossil fuel generation plant, but also including gas boilers, ICE cars, associated jobs/industry losses) and equity issues; and enable innovation, new entrants, new ways of doing things; and bottom up involvement.
We in IGov would of course like to be at net zero as soon as possible and we underline the need for governance change to do this. The climate science continues to evolve and the IPCC sixth assessment report will provide new insights in 2021. Based on what we currently know we have to reduce GHG at a faster rate, we would therefore argue we should be pushing for a much more ambitious target of net zero by 2035.
If you would like to find out more about the importance of effective governance and our thinking on how it should develop you can sign up for our new online course: Transforming Energy Systems: Why Governance Matters.