The long-standing target that UK emissions must fall to 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 is under review by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Claire Perry, minister of state for energy and clean growth, has formally invited the statutory climate change watchdog for advice on when the UK can cut its greenhouse gas emission to “net zero”.

Alongside her counterparts in the Scottish and Welsh governments, Perry has written to CCC chair Lord Deben for input on how the UK should revise its climate change goals to bring them into line with its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.

The letter follows last week’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shows that governments must speed up their actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic consequences.

The letter asks the committee, which marks the beginning of Green GB Week, for advice on:

  • setting a date for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions, including from transport, industry and agriculture
  • whether the UK needs to review its 2050 target of cutting emissions by at least 80 per cent relative to 1990 levels, enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, in order to meet international climate targets set out in Paris Agreement
  • how emissions reductions might be achieved in industry, homes, transport and agriculture
  • the expected costs and benefits of cutting emissions entirely compared with current targets

As part of the review, the CCC has been asked to examine the level of greenhouse gas emissions cuts, which the UK must contribute by 2050 to limit warming to 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The government used the beginning of Green GB Week to announce the opening of the £18 million heat recovery support scheme to help businesses become more energy efficient.

It has also launched a £320 million government low-carbon heating for cities fund, which Triple Point Heat Networks Investment Management has been appointed to oversee.

And ministers have promised to launch a competition next year to design the house of the future, which is meant to be more energy efficient and easily adaptable to help healthy ageing.

Green GB Week will see more than 100 events hosted around the country designed to promote the opportunities that come from clean growth and raise awareness of how businesses and the public can contribute to tackling climate change.

Polling commissioned for Green GB Week shows that 60 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are interested in “green collar” jobs in the environmental sectors of the economy.

Responding to the government’s request for advice, Lord Deben wrote: “We will consider how and by when the UK can effectively eliminate carbon emissions from its economy. We will also look at whether the current 2050 target – which requires an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050, compared to levels in 1990 – is still fit for purpose.

“And, we’ll set out the necessary steps to clean up the UK’s homes, industry, transport and agriculture to help drive down emissions further, as well the associated costs and benefits.”

Lord Howard, former secretary of state of the environment, congratulated the government on its announcement.

He said: “Experience shows we have nothing to fear from decarbonisation, given the UK’s G7-leading success in reducing emissions while growing our economy.”

However Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow secretary for business and energy, slammed the announcement as hypocritical in the light of its support for fracking, which recommenced today (15 October) in Lancashire after a seven-year hiatus.

She said: “This announcement comes as the government slashes support for small scale renewables, scales back support for electric vehicles in a move described by industry as ‘astounding’ and is slammed by a leading climate scientist for its pursuit of fracking. This gaping contradiction is no accident – it is hypocrisy of the highest order, and an affront to those communities on which this government has forced the fracking industry.”

Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of Renewable UK, said: “The government has done the right thing by taking the first step towards setting a new target of net zero carbon emissions, but this needs to be followed swiftly with robust action. Conservative ministers took the bold decision in 2015 to phase out coal; they need to be bold again.

“Onshore and offshore wind are the UK’s biggest renewable energy sources, generating half of our country’s clean power. We need to scale up these successful, innovative, cheap technologies even further and even faster if the UK is to meet more ambitious targets. We also need to fully commercialise our massive wave and tidal energy resources.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “Although it might seem a tough target to virtually eliminate emissions in just 30 years, pretty much all the technology needed exists. We know how to get virtually to zero emissions in electricity, land transport, home heating and most branches of industry.”

He also said backing from the public and from MPs, more than 130 of whom have just signed a letter to the prime minister asking for the net zero target to be brought forward to before 2050, showed that a more ambitious emissions reduction target would be popular move.

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