Ex-Conservative leader Michael Howard has led calls for the government to implement the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that a target of net zero emissions by 2050 should be adopted.

But responding to the CCC’s report, which was published earlier today (2 May), business secretary of state Greg Clark said that while the government is committed to legislating for a net zero emissions target it would not do so “immediately”.

Lord Howard of Lympne, who was leader of the opposition from 2003 to 2005 and secretary of state for environment when the first UN climate change framework was agreed in 1992, said: “Now the science is clear that we must go further, and adopt a net zero emissions target by 2050, if not earlier. We must not shirk from this challenge, nor should we be afraid of it.

“Pragmatic policies introduced by past governments have shown, as in the case with offshore wind, that costs can quickly be driven down and thriving new industries grown. At this time in our nation’s history, we should embrace this opportunity to lead in the low-carbon industries of the future.”

The ex-Tory leader was joined in his call by Oscar winning film producer and Labour peer Lord Puttnam, who helped push the Climate Change Act through parliament in 2008.

He said: “Although issues like Brexit will pass, the awesome challenge of addressing climate change will be one that faces us and future generations for decades to come. Setting a net zero target in law is merely the next step on this long road: we should take it, and quickly.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said that the CCC’s report demonstrated that the changes needed to get to net zero would not be “particularly disruptive” for the UK economy.

He said: “The ball is at the feet of ministers – and the committee suggests there’s everything to gain from acting swiftly and decisively.”

Ryan Shorthouse, director of the progressive Conservative thinktank Bright Blue, urged Theresa May to legislate.

“Before she steps down, the prime minister has the opportunity to do something uncharacteristically bold: ensure the UK adopts a new, legal net-zero emissions target by 2050 at the very latest.

“Doing so would be the most critical and transformative policy her government could implement. And it would be quintessentially conservative: helping to build a more sustainable and prosperous future for younger generations.”

Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee, said it is “vital” for the government to bring forward policies to implement the CCC’s recommendations.

She added: “We are currently not on target to meet the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets, let alone achieve net zero so the stark reality is that the UK government has a lot to do to help deliver a better planet for our children.

“On onshore wind, on electric vehicles, on carbon capture and storage, and on a range of other transport and energy areas such as energy efficiency, the government needs to up its game and come forward with the policies, actions, and regulations needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

Highlighting the CCC’s support for a tenfold increase in installed offshore windfarm capacity to 75GW by 2050, Renewable UK deputy chief executive, Emma Pinchbeck, said: “To achieve net zero, we have to put the pedal to the metal on our world-leading wind industry.

“The report suggests a ten-fold increase in offshore wind and action to reverse the decline of onshore wind.

“We can’t keep playing politics if we’re going to tackle climate change. Nor can we rely on a net zero target alone.

“Delayed policy action over the last 20 years has already made the challenge harder and cuts to emissions steeper. The government needs to act now, and we have a world-leading renewables industry which can help them deliver.”

But Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary for energy, called on the government not to adopt the CCC’s recommendations wholesale.

He said: “The government itself and parliament must now take direct responsibility for the economic and industrial consequences of the future political decisions that are required.

“This must happen before, for example, we maroon new homes off of the gas grid when a switch to hydrogen is both logical and a recommendation from the CCC report.

“In facing up to the economic and industrial issues tied up in these political decisions, government would be accountable to the electorate as a whole not a vocal activist minority.

“This means renewable energy sources and new nuclear power stations with gas used for home heating to lower emissions for the foreseeable future. Hydrogen should be added to the gas grid.”

Read more industry reaction here. 

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