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A cross-party group of senior MPs and peers have urged the government to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050.

In a letter to prime minister Theresa May, the coalition, led by Conservative MP Simon Clarke, called for the target to be enshrined in law within the current parliament.

The group made the appeal after energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry announced in April that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) would be instructed to provide formal advice to the government on how the UK’s emissions targets should be adjusted to align with its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement.

“Given the existing advice from the CCC, the likely conclusion of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and that other countries have set net zero targets with dates between 2030 and 2050, including France, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and New Zealand, we believe this must be a target for zero greenhouse gases before 2050,” they wrote.

“British ingenuity, from Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Dorothy Hodgkin, has kept the UK at the forefront of science and engineering for more than 200 years. Setting ourselves the goal of net zero emissions will put us at the forefront of the race for investment in clean industries, creating jobs all around the UK and inspiring the next generation.”

They continued: “A net zero emissions target, fully implemented, will cut energy bills by improving the efficiency of our homes and businesses, it will get rid of the exhaust pipe emissions that pollute the air we breathe, and it will help to bring about the restoration of our natural habitats so they become stores of carbon, from forests to peatlands.

“We can have a cleaner Britain with cleaner air – and by making a clean break from harmful emissions, we’ll be sending a signal to our friends and allies around the world that Britain is shouldering our responsibility and leading the fight against climate change”.

The letter lauded the “cross-party consensus” that exists on the issue of climate change and said the move would be popular, citing a recent poll by Opinium that found 64 per cent of UK adults agreed Britain should aim to achieve net zero emissions over the next few decades.

Signatories to the letter included former Conservative party leader Lord Howard, former Labour party leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat energy and climate change spokesman Baroness Featherstone and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

It was also signed by Environmental Audit Committee chair and MP for Wakefield, Mary Creagh, who said: “If we don’t move to net zero, we can’t stop climate change. Much of the technology we need to reach net zero is already available and setting a net zero target will focus efforts on finding solutions and give business certainty.”

The 2008 Climate Change Act already commits the UK to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050.

According to a recent report from the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, the act is “technically consistent” with the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, the report said legislation also needs to be introduced to reflect the agreement’s ultimate aim of reaching net zero emissions.

In July 2016, the government confirmed the fifth carbon budget covering 2028 to 2032, agreeing to reduce emissions by an average of 57 per cent on 1990 levels over the period.

Figures released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in February show transport has overtaken energy supply to become the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the UK.

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