A target to slash carbon emissions to zero before 2050 has been backed by a fifth of MPs.

A total of 131 MPs, which forms about one-fifth of the 646-strong House of Commons, have signed a letter to Theresa May, calling on the government to adopt a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target before 2050.

The net zero target involves reducing emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any left-over carbon soaked out of the atmosphere by, for example, planting trees. It would go beyond the Paris climate change agreement to reduce emissions to zero after 2050.

The signatories to the letter, which is due to be handed into Number 10 Downing Street by Conservative backbench MP Simon Clarke at 3pm this afternoon (11 September), include MPs from all mainland UK political parties.

Clarke will be joined at Number 10 by a cross-party delegation including Labour MP Mary Creagh, who is also environmental audit committee chair and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

The letter’s signatories also include Rebecca Long-Bailey and Alan Whitehead from Labour’s shadow business and energy ministerial team as well as ex-opposition leader Ed Miliband, former energy and climate change secretary of state Ed Davey and Damian Green, who was until last autumn May’s de facto deputy prime minister.

The letter emphases the business opportunity in moving to a net zero economy: “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.

“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.”

The delivery of the letter coincides with the UK zero emission vehicle summit, which is being held in Birmingham (11-12 September).

Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “The recent heatwave in the UK and across Europe is a clear reminder that we must continue to face up to the reality of climate change. To bring our climate back into balance we have to finally end our emissions.

“We have led the world in confronting this problem and can lead in solving it, drawing on our engineering and scientific prowess that will help bring us to net zero. I am very proud to have coordinated this cross-party approach to the prime minister in which so many MPs and peers say we will support moves to bring such a target into law.

“Net zero would have seemed beyond our reach when the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. However, the breakthroughs that have been made since then with renewable technologies, both in scale and in cost, mean that it is now both achievable and necessary.

“Setting ourselves the goal of net zero emissions will spur innovation, building on existing British know-how to get us all the way to net zero, creating new industries and jobs across the UK in clean technologies like carbon capture and storage, which I am so keen to bring to my own region of Teesside.”

Tony Juniper, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said he is encouraged by the cross-party commitment from MPs to cutting carbon emissions and meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The heatwaves and wildfires we have been experiencing around the world are signs of a planet in crisis – a powerful message that we need to act urgently to tackle the damage we’re doing to our world.”

What to read next