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‘A long way off track’: Experts condemn government over net-zero target failings

Katie Anderson
·4 mins read
Thousands have gathered in London this week to rally against 'government inaction' on the climate crisis
Thousands have gathered in London this week to rally against 'government inaction' on the climate crisis

The UK government is on course to miss its target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, experts have warned in a new report.

“The government is a long way off track, in several areas including housing it hasn’t put forward the step-changing policies needed to get the UK on the right path” says Tom Sasse, co-author of the report and senior researcher at the Institute of Government.

Although there’s been a consistent fall in emissions from the power sector, as the country transitions from coal and oil to gas and renewables, the UK is falling behind in curbing pollution from transport and investing in energy efficient housing.

“Net-zero by 2050 is the baseline countries have agreed to in order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change” Mr Sasse told The Independent.

If the goal isn’t met globally, “scientists say we stand a poor chance of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees” he added.

Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party, told The Independent: "The government has had its warnings, but is failing. Now it’s a moment of choice: we have a very small window to act before we risk slipping into run-away climate change".

Showing that the UK is serious about reaching its legal target is important in the lead up to COP26, the UN climate change conference set to be held by Britain in 2021.

“Britain has a unique opportunity as the host of this conference to influence the way the world is tackling climate change. Talking the talk won't be enough two years after setting our target” said Mr Sasse.

He added: “nobody who we have spoken to in government feels that ‘net-zero’ has been a top priority for the prime minister since taking office’’”, but that the “scale of change needed in every part of the economy won’t happen without him".

Despite this alleged inertia within government, experts are keen to emphasise that there are solutions available. Reaching the bold target will require pacy developments in technology and infrastructure, and a shift in social values.

What policy changes can we expect?

The transport sector is currently the UK’s biggest polluter, so we will need to “actively disincentive car use, rather than just improve alternative public and active transport options” according to Lorraine Whitmarsh, the director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations at Bath University. This could be restricting access to roads, removing parking spots or increasing congestion charge in busy areas.

Experts say we must also encourage people to fly less by restricting airport expansion and introducing a frequent flyer levy, since aviation is an area where emissions are projected to continue rising.

“We are also going to need to move away from eating as much red meat and dairy,” said Prof Whitmarsh, adding that “we may need interventions from the government”.

Pricing policies are also thougt to have a lot of potential “putting charges on high carbon foods and products is a serious option”, whilst also “increasing the amount of plant-based options in public sector settings”.

The UK must update its building processes if the government is to reach its target, because “the current way we build houses is about the worst way we can when it comes to climate change” Prof Whitmarsh told The Independent.

And despite rising engagement from the UK public about the climate crisis, “we need a shift in values and behaviour, so people stop linking well-being and consumption” said Prof Whitmarsh.

“We need to move away from materialism, and do more sharing and repairing things … many of us have lost those skills”.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokeperson told The Independent: “We are driving efforts across government to ensure we can go further and faster in achieving net zero by 2050."

“We have a strong record in tackling climate change, cutting emissions by 43 per cent since 1990, and we are continuing to invest in delivering more offshore wind power than any other country.”

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