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The climate challenge: twelve years or thirty


Rachel Reeves MP, Citizens' Assembly, climate change, letter, Philip Hammond, series of questions, net zero 2050, UN IPCC report, 1.5C, Greta Thunberg,“The job now” is to get on with mapping out the path to achieve a net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050.

Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee wrote to Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently, with a series of questions concerning reports that government estimates have put the cost of meeting the net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 at £1 trillion.

The letter put a number of questions to the Chancellor, including whether Treasury modelling has been conducted on any public expenditure savings that would arise from net-zero e.g. reduction in NHS spending from healthier diets, reduced pollution etc; plans for a Treasury review of how to fund the transition to ‘net zero’; and whether the Treasury will develop a strategy to ensure the distribution of costs and benefits is fair.

The correspondence also questioned how the 5-year review of the net zero target would be conducted.

Ahead of a BEIS Committee session on net zero with the Minister on 10 July, Reeves, as BEIS Chair also wrote to Minister Chris Skidmore with a series of questions about the government’s approach to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including how the government intends to include emissions from international aviation and shipping and use of international carbon credits.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a commitment to the UK cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and the publication of the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) report, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee held a session on 18 June examining the rationale for going faster to hit the net zero target, hearing from witnesses including Gail Bradbrook, from Extinction Rebellion; Isabella O’Dowd, a Climate and Energy Specialist, WWF; and Baroness Bryony Worthington, from the Environmental Defense Fund.

In the first session for the Financing Energy Infrastructure inquiry on 19 June, with witnesses from the Committee on Climate Change, the National Infrastructure Commission, and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the BEIS Committee asked for reactions to the £1 trillion estimate and views on how the anticipated benefits of net zero compare with the costs.

On 8 May, the BEIS Committee had questioned the Committee on Climate Change and business stakeholders on the net zero target and actions needed to achieve net zero emissions.

The net-zero hearings scheduled for 10 July are part of the Committee’s ongoing work on the Clean Growth Strategy and complement its current inquiries on financing energy infrastructure and on energy efficiency.

The Committee has also carried out inquiries on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage and on Electric Vehicles.

And the BEIS Committee also recently joined with five other select committees of the House of Commons – Environmental Audit; Housing, Communities and Local Government; Science and Technology; Transport; and Treasury – to announce plans to hold a Citizens’ Assembly on combatting climate change and achieving the pathway to net zero carbon emissions.

The announcement of a Citizens’ Assembly, likely to begin in the autumn, followed the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a commitment to an ambitious new target for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The Citizens’ Assembly is designed to explore views on the fair sharing of potential costs of different policy choices and is intended to provide input to future select committee activity and will inform political debate and Government policy making.

Reeves said: “The Prime Minister’s commitment to the UK setting a net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050 is welcome; the job now is to get on with mapping out the path to achieve it.

“This isn’t a challenge for just one Parliament, one political party, or one generation; to achieve net-zero by 2050 we need to build cross-party and cross-generational support for the short, medium, and, long term policies and actions needed to deliver it.

“Net-zero presents the UK with a golden opportunity to deliver environmental and health benefits, new jobs, sustainable green industries and export opportunities,” she continued.

“But the UK won’t play its part in helping to save our planet or enable us to reap the benefits unless there is a co-ordinated, cross-departmental effort from the government, together with buy-in from the public for the measures needed to achieve this ambitious goal.

“The Citizens Assembly announced by six Select Committees […] will give an opportunity for public input into the climate change debate.

“It will also help to provide committees with a clearer insight into the public’s views on the fair sharing of the potential costs of different policy choices and how we can best meet them.

“It’s clear that meeting the net-zero target will involve all parts of our economy, from, for example, heating our homes, electric vehicles and decarbonising transport, to energy infrastructure, green finance, and low-carbon goods and services.

“I hope the Citizens Assembly will demonstrate that, when all is considered, there is strong public support – even demand – for the Government to take the action necessary to deliver the benefits of net zero by 2050.”

But in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), the world’s leading climate scientists, in a report published in October 2018, said we have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, and that urgent changes were needed to cut risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty.

They said urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

At the current level of commitments, they said, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming.

And Greta Thunberg, speaking at Davos earlier this year, said, as part of her speech: “Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.

“Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

“We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.

“That is up to you and me.

“Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?

“Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

And Theresa May speaks of net zero by 2050.

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