1: Welcome to our net zero blog!
This is the first edition of BDB Pitmans’ latest blog, on net zero.
The drive to reach net zero is one of the most significant challenges, if not the most significant, that we face as a nation and as a planet. It is an area of rapid development that is important to keep on top of – the perfect subject matter for a blog!
It is being produced alternately by two members of our infrastructure planning team, Richard Marsh and Angus Walker. We are aiming for it to come out weekly, every Tuesday, although this edition is issued on Monday 1 November 2021 to mark the start (or the first working day at least!) of the COP26 conference in Glasgow.
What is ‘net zero’?
The concept of net zero in the UK starts with the Paris Agreement, the international treaty aimed at limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, concluded at ‘COP21’ in Paris in 2015. Enough countries had ratified it (including the UK, signed by Lord Bourne) for it to come into force in November 2016. Also at COP21, the parties asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce a special report on how to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees in addition to its usual five-yearly reports.
The IPCC special report (‘SR15’ – should really be ‘SR1.5’) was published on 8 October 2018. This prompted the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to ask the Climate Change Committee or the ‘CCC’ (a government adviser set up by the Climate Change Act 2008) a mere week later to report on when the UK could achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, whether a target should be set and how it could be achieved.
The CCC published its report on 2 May 2019. The report was called ‘Net Zero’, which popularised the phrase. It recommended that the UK aim for net zero, ie that its captured carbon should at least equal its carbon emissions, by 2050 and that such a target be set. The previous figure enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008 was an 80% reduction in net carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.
The Climate Change Act 2008 was duly amended on 26 June 2019 to require a 100% reduction in net carbon emissions from 1990 levels, ie net zero, by 2050. So here we are.
How will we get there?
Watch this space, we don’t fully know yet! The Climate Change Act 2008 requires five-yearly carbon budgets to be set 11 years in advance so that reductions are made over time and not all at the last minute. We are currently in the third carbon budget period (2018-2022) and have just set the sixth carbon budget, for 2033-2037.
Emissions in 1990 were 794 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) – ‘equivalent’ because other gases are converted into the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide and added in, although carbon dioxide itself constitutes about 80% of the total.
We achieved the first carbon budget of 3,018 MtCO2e with 36 MtCO2e to spare (remember it is over a five-year period, the 1990 figure would be 3,970 MtCO2e if repeated for five years). We achieved the second carbon budget of 2,782 MtCOe with a healthy 384 MtCO2e to spare. The third carbon budget is 2,544 MtCO2e (should be easy, the second period’s emissions were already below that) and the fourth, fifth and sixth are 1,950 MtCO2e, 1,725 MtCO2e and 965 MtCO2e respectively. Quite a jump down between the fifth and sixth, the fifth being set before net zero came along. Earlier this year, the CCC considered that we were ‘off track’ to meet the fourth to sixth budgets.
More recently the government published its ‘Net Zero Strategy’ which rather than a strategy to reach net zero by 2050, is actually a strategy to achieve the sixth carbon budget by 2037. It includes a pledge to decarbonise electricity generation by 2035 (although bases its forecasts on 80-85% decarbonisation). Will it persuade the CCC to revise its assessment?
As time goes on the quick wins will have been achieved and what remains to decarbonise will get harder and harder to eliminate or offset with equivalent carbon capture. The government is adamant that consumer behaviour will not have to change, whereas the CCC’s Net Zero report suggests cutting down on flights, meat and dairy will be necessary. That conflict is likely to become more acute over time.
What will this blog cover?
Everything ‘net zero’ related! The drive to net zero will affect every part of our lives – the energy we produce and how we consume it, how we make products and get rid of them, and how we manage land. We will particularly focus on energy and transport as these are the two areas that currently emit the most and require the most attention.
The generation of electricity is the key, as more and more energy consumption converts to electricity at the same time as electricity moves to low carbon and carbon captured generation. UK electricity demand was 330 terawatt hours in 2020, the Net Zero Strategy estimates it will need to be around double that, 610-690 TWh, in 2050.
We will report on, and analyse developments relating to, the achievement of net zero, whether they are policy-related or significant events on the ground or in the planning!
This blog is being launched to coincide with COP26, the United Nations’ 26th climate conference being held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. I (Angus Walker) will be there on 10 and 11 November 2021 and will report back on what it is like and what gets achieved at the global and UK level.
If you are interested in developments relating to the UK’s drive to eliminate carbon emissions (and who isn’t?), please subscribe to this blog so that you get an email alert when a new entry is published.