Cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 will be “very challenging”, according to a new academic report.
The government has asked the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to explore how the UK’s climate change targets should be strengthened in order to meet the Paris climate change agreement.
The agreement’s target that temperature rise should be kept to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels will mean reducing emissions as close to “net zero” as possible by 2050, according to experts, with any left-over carbon soaked out of the atmosphere via measures such as tree planting.
The CCC will be asked to begin its work later this autumn when the International Panel on Climate Change submits a report showing the impact of rising temperatures and the steps that can be taken to mitigate them.
A new report, produced jointly by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society, says greenhouse gas reduction (GGR) technologies will be required to counter-act ongoing emissions from areas like aviation and agriculture.
It says: “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the greatest degree considered feasible would leave remaining emissions of around 130 MtCO2 per annum by 2050.
“Offsetting these emissions with GGR to reach ‘net-zero’ for the UK is possible, but very challenging.”
In order to offset emissions to the extent required to achieve net zero emissions will involve substantial deployment of GGR methods, including infrastructure and capacity for carbon capture and storage.
A combination of ready to use GGR methods, such as reforestation and building with wood, could provide just over a quarter of the target to reach net zero emissions.
But it warns that many of the methods for removing greenhouse gases, such as planting more trees, are resource hungry in terms of the amount of land energy and water that they require.
The land area, available, resource requirements and potential impacts on biodiversity and social equity will limit how much of these methods can be deployed.
To make it economically feasible to pursue GGR at an adequate scale, the report estimates that a carbon price of $100 per tonne of CO2 will be required, The current carbon price on the EU emissions trading system is around $23.
Gideon Henderson, professor of earth science at the University of Oxford and chair of the report working group, said “If the UK acts now on greenhouse gas removal, we can reach national emissions targets and show how a major industrialised economy can play a leading role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“In this report we’ve identified the available GGR technologies, how they might be used together for maximum effect, and how their phased development and deployment could enable the urgent action required to avoid the devastating impact of climate change.
“We must absolutely continue to prioritise rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but we will also have to use these GGR methods to achieve international climate goals, and steward the planet for future generations.”