Failing to do so will lead to rapid heating of the planet and likely ecological collapse.
Scientists and experts around the world have agreed that reaching net zero emission by 2050 is the best chance the planet has of tackling global warming before it’s too late.
In a landmark 2021 report, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of a “code red” for humanity, saying that today’s global leaders are likely to be the last group of politicians with the ability to hit the net zero target.
Without action by those in power now, they warned, governments in place by the end of the decade will have run out of time to fix the crisis.
Thanks to historical greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say that a lot of planetary warming is already “locked in” even if the world does manage to stay within the 1.5C limit agreed at the Conference of Parties (COP) in 2015.
The IPCC have said this means some changes are already “irreversible”, with droughts, floods, heat waves and storms becoming more frequent.
However, the IPCC also said the 1.5C limit is humanity’s best chance to avoid the very worst effects of climate change.
The goal of reaching net zero emissions is to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100, which scientists say is key to minimising soaring temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather. The increase sits at around 1.1C so far.
But reaching the target by 2050 actually only means having a 50 per cent chance of keeping temperatures below the 1.5C limit, the Committee on Climate Change said. Experts and policymakers did not think it would be realistic to reach net zero before 2050 though some nations have set earlier targets, including Scotland (2045).
How much does net zero cost?
There is a lot of uncertainty around the journey to net zero, so calculating exact figures is difficult for experts. But in 2019 the Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimated the total costs would be £50 billion per year, which is less than one per cent of GDP, while the Treasury said it could be closer to £70 billion per year.
Action taken to save the planet will save the government money, too. Better air quality and less reliance on cars will improve UK health. This could ease pressure on the NHS, which the CCC said could “partially or fully offset costs”.
Why are Tory leadership candidates rejecting the policy?
Kemi Badenoch, for example, said in an interview with the Telegraph that she was “not someone who doesn’t believe in climate change”, but added that it was “wrong of us to set a target without having a clear plan of the cost and knowing what it would entail”.
Senior Tory MP Steve Baker, who founded the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group, has suggested that he will push for the next PM to scale back net zero ambitions.
The most common argument against achieving the target by 2050 is that the costs will be too high.
Scientists, including those on the CCC, however, have repeatedly outlined the fact that the costs of not acting on climate change will be far higher than the costs of implementing net zero.
What is the Net Zero Scrutiny Group?
With around 19 members in the House of Commons, the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) has been set up to “scrutinise” the government’s key climate target.
Members of the group claim that a too-speedy transition to renewable energy has driven the current energy crisis, and say the cost of implementing net zero policies will be too costly, making the poorest poorer.
They have called for cuts to green taxes and an increase in fossil fuel production – in spite of warnings from scientists that fossil fuel exploration should be halted.
The group say they are not climate change deniers, though two leading members have links to an organisation founded by long-term climate denier Nigel Lawson.
The group’s chair, the MP Craig Mackinlay, has also been accused of propagating misleading information by a leading climate institute.
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