Key questions answered around cutting greenhouse gases to zero

The Committee on Climate Change has recommended the UK sets and pursues a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

– Why do we need to aim for zero emissions?

As more greenhouse gases lead to more warming, stabilising the planet’s temperature at any level will require global emissions to fall to zero overall.

A key UN report last year said that to keep temperatures from rising by more than 1.5C in the long-term, countries need to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, with steep cuts in other greenhouse gases such as methane.

Mass tree planting
Planting trees helps cut emissions because they absorb carbon dioxide (John Malley/National Trust/PA)

– What does net zero mean?

It means cutting emissions to as close to zero as possible and using methods to take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere to “offset” the remaining pollution – for example, by planting trees which absorb carbon dioxide.

– What happens if we do not do it?

We have already experienced 1C of warming, and commitments by countries to cut their emissions leave the world on track for rises of 3C by 2100.

Temperature rises of more than 1.5C are set to increase extreme weather events such as heatwaves and flooding, cause greater losses in crop yields and wildlife and raise the risk of large-scale irreversible impacts such as melting ice sheets which will push up sea levels.

Just out:| Phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to end UK contribution to global warming, CCC says in a major new report: https://t.co/bSMLAsca67

Read our new #NetZero advice to Government. Full report, technical report + much more here: https://t.co/73GKucVI0T#NetZeroUKpic.twitter.com/FAUkQllev1

— CCC (@theCCCuk) May 1, 2019

– We are just one country. How much of a role can the UK play?

While the UK’s current emissions make up only a small percentage of the overall global output, the country led the industrial revolution and has made a major contribution to greenhouse gas pollution over time.

Cutting all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 will meet the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming and provide leadership for other countries to follow suit.

– Can we do it?

The Committee on Climate Change has concluded that it can be done with known technologies and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it set the current 2050 target for an 80% cut on 1990 levels.

But it will require “clear, stable and well-designed policies” to reduce emissions further across the economy without delay, the experts say.

And moving to a zero-emissions economy must be fair on workers and consumers.

– What will it involve?

Phasing out greenhouse gases over the next three decades will require changes in all areas of the economy including more low-carbon power, electric vehicles, tackling emissions from aviation and industry and changes to how land is used and buildings are heated.

Call to ban some electric cars from motorway chargepoints
Drivers can do their bit to help reduce emissions by switching to electric cars (Fiona Hanson/PA)

– What can people do in their own lives to reduce emissions?

Active engagement from households to reduce their carbon footprint will be vital to achieve net zero, the Committee on Climate Change says.

People can choose to walk, cycle or take public transport or make their next car an electric one, and minimise flying.

They can improve the energy efficiency of their homes, as well as setting thermostats no higher than 19C, and consider installing low-carbon heating systems.

Eating a healthy diet, such as cutting down on beef, lamb and dairy can also help tackle emissions, as can reducing food waste, buying peat-free compost and sharing or buying items like power tools that are not often used.

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