The UK government has announced the industrialized world’s most ambitious climate action targets to date which Greenpeace’s chief scientist Doug Parr called a “big moment for everyone in the climate movement”. Here are some of the nation’s climate milestones over the last three years culminating in this visionary target.
In June 2016 the UK announced that it will cut carbon emissions by 57 percent by 2032, from 1990 levels and 80 percent by 2050. In January 2017 the UK launched a £8.6 million national research program to explore approaches to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
In May 2017 Solar energy hit a milestone by providing a quarter of UK’s power demand for the first time. On Friday May 26, solar energy generated a record 24.3 percent of the UK’s energy. Later that year the UK government opening the grid to battery storage devices to help energy consumers and industries save as much as 40 billion pounds ($52 billion) on their electricity bills.
At COP23 Canada and the UK launched the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to encourage governments to phase out coal power plants. In 2017 the electric power generation sector had its cleanest year ever breaking 13 separate records including the first time since 1882 that Britain went without using any coal power. In April 2018 the UK went for more than three days (55 hours) without using any coal for the first time since the industrial revolution.
In 2018 the UK government laid out its 25-year Environment Plan to enhance the nation’s environment by supporting habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and addressing the problem of plastic waste in the world’s oceans by removing all avoidable plastic waste. The government’s March 31 budget last year included plans to begin taxing the import and manufacture of all plastic packaging that is not recyclable.
On May 1 of this year, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn brought a successful motion to UK Parliament to declare an Environment and Climate Emergency and begin a process of rapid decarbonization.
However important these actions may be, they pale in comparison to Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on June 10th. May said she will amend legislation to establish a net zero emissions target by 2050. This will make the UK the first major global economy to commit to end greenhouse gas emissions. The UK joins countries with smaller economies who have already made such a commitment (Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, and Costa Rica). The French government is currently working on similar plans as is the EU.
As reported by Business Green, The amendment to the 2008 Climate Change Act will replace the current 80 percent emissions reduction target by 2050 with net zero emission targets. In a statement announcing the decision May said, “Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”
This decision has extensive implications for the UK’s electricity, construction, heating, agriculture and transport systems. This move will accelerate the end of fossil fuels in the UK including shale gas exploitation and the sale of internal combustion engine cars and trucks. Farming and land use will have to be transformed enabling tree planting, peatland restoration, and increased cultivation of biomass energy crops. Lifestyle changes will also be required including increased consumption of plant-based foods and more use of public transport.
This announcement makes the UK a world leader in the global fight against climate change. It will also serve as an example to others.
“As the first major economy in the world to legislate for net-zero emissions, this will inspire other countries to follow,” Nick Mabey, CEO of climate change think tank E3Gsaid. “It is an act of true leadership on the international stage.”
According to a report from the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change, if other countries follow the UK, there is a very good chance we can keep the world from warming beyond the upper threshold limit of 2C.
This is sure to be May’s most enduring political legacy and it proves that conservatives can be climate leaders.
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