The UK can cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 but only if existing policies are ramped up, including bringing forward the date of the proposed ban on the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles, the government’s climate change watchdog has concluded.

The Committee on Climate Change’s advice on meeting the “net zero” target, which has been published today (2 May), concludes that it can be achieved by the middle of the century.

And Scotland can meet the net zero target by 2045, sooner than the rest of the UK, because it has “greater potential” to remove pollution from its economy than the UK overall.

Wales should adopt a target for a 95 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

However the UK wide net-zero target is “not credible unless policy is ramped up significantly” with many current plans “insufficiently ambitious” or “proceeding too slowly”, even to meet the current 80 per cent target.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, said: “It’s not credible to set targets unless there is a very significant change in the polices to deliver it. The framework for the Clean Growth Strategy has the right things in its but not the right level of ambition.”

The report says that the existing date of 2040 is “too late” to phase-out of petrol and diesel cars and vans, with current plans for delivering this too vague.

Stark said that 2035 is the “very latest” that the ban could be introduced in order to ensure that the UK can transition to net zero emissions.

The CCC says there is “still no serious plan” for decarbonising UK heating systems with large-scale trials not yet to commence for either heat pumps or hydrogen.

And while there are 43 large-scale carbon capture and storage projects operating or being developed worldwide, none have yet to get under way in the UK.

The net zero goal can be achieved at a cost of 1-2 per cent of GDP in 2050, a similar level to that originally anticipated for the transition to the 80 per cent reduction target, as a result of falls in cost for key zero-carbon technologies.

But the CCC says that attempting to bring forward the net zero target “significantly” before 2050, like the 2025 date urged by the Extinction Rebellion campaign, is “not credible” and would rely on options that are “currently speculative”.

It says: “Some sectors (e.g. the power sector) could reach net-zero emissions by 2045, for most sectors 2050 currently appears to be the earliest credible date. An earlier date would also give less time to develop currently speculative options as alternatives to make up for any shortfall from other measures.”

Lord Deben, the CCC chair, defended the decision not to bring forward the date.

He said: “Some will say we haven’t been tough enough. Our view is that you have to be realistic about how much change in people’s behaviour you can expect or reasonably want.”

But legislation for the net zero target should be implemented “as soon as possible”, the report recommends.

And the CCC warns that efforts to cut emissions cannot be left to the energy and environment departments or to the Treasury and that it is “vital” that the whole of government is involved.

It recommends that the Treasury should undertake a review of how the transition to net zero will be funded and the distribution of costs.

The report was commissioned by the government following last year’s conclusion by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that worldwide emissions must be cut to net zero by 2050 in order to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

Read SSE’s chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies exclusive piece for Utility Week in response to the report here.  

What to read next