On the road to net zero
Research impact and institutes 16th July 2020
There’s no denying that COVID-19 has taken the title of the biggest crisis facing the world in 2020. But make no mistake – that other crisis, climate change, has not gone away.
Today, Policy@Manchester publishes On Net Zero – a report that calls for a serious re-think of the UK’s approach to our current net zero target. A collaboration between academics from across the University, the report comprises thought leadership pieces and expert analysis on vital issues such as carbon offsetting, carbon emissions in transportation, fuel poverty, social sustainability and renewable energy.
Over the last six months, as countries around the world entered various states of lockdown; commuters parked their cars; factories and offices closed their doors and the skies fell silent as planes were grounded, carbon emissions fell significantly. However, these results are temporary, and as a ‘back-to-business’ approach is taken and governments work to reignite stagnant economies, the risk of returning to bad habits is real.
Seizing the new normal
“We must seize the opportunity to make the COVID-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis,” says Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, in his forward for the report. “We must take urgent steps to frame a recovery from COVID-19 that both accelerates the transition to net zero and strengthens our resilience to the impacts of climate change, whilst driving new economic activity.” The steps taken by Parliament now will “define the pathway” for years to come, Lord Deben notes.
Indeed, with the UK poised to take on the presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland this November, Lord Deben warns that Britain’s “credibility is on the line” as it leads the world’s response to climate change in the wake of the biggest global challenge we have faced for generations.
Coronavirus has rocked the world as we know it – but the markers of climate change remain there for all to see. Hot dry summers; extreme flooding; shrinking ice sheets; vanishing glaciers; rising sea levels – “the need to act couldn’t be clearer”, says Lord Deben.
Last year, the UK government committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, meaning that any emissions the country produces are balanced out by an equivalent amount of emissions being absorbed.
Achieving this requires policy informed by science and set by government. It means encouraging businesses to invest in zero-carbon technology and initiatives. It requires the creation of a new and skilled workforce able to build a net zero economy. And it needs the involvement and support of the British public. A net zero commitment means there is a role for everyone to play, from the individual household to the international corporation.
As Professor Carly McLachlan, Director of Tyndall Manchester, points out, green projects “create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings compared with traditional fiscal stimulus”. She adds: “As well as interventions targeted to support accelerated growth in low carbon sectors, bailouts and other support must come with conditions that support and facilitate transition to a net zero pathway for all sectors of the economy.”
Towards net zero
So why net zero? As Prof McLachlan explains, as part of the 2016 Paris Agreement the UK committed to ensuring the global temperature rose by “well below 2 degrees C” above pre-industrial levels this century. In fact, the aim is to ensure the increase is limited to 1.5 degrees C. But approximately 1 degree of warming has already occurred. Upholding the Paris Agreement pledge has, therefore, never been more important to the future of the planet.
“We must fundamentally challenge our existing unsustainable patterns of consumption and their associated infrastructure,” urges Prof McLachlan. Now is the time to pull together – not only to recover from the crisis wrought by COVID-19, but to heal the planet and safeguard its future. 2020 could yet be the most important year in human history.
You can read On Net Zero in full here.
Words – Hayley Cox
Images – The University of Manchester