At the Climate Summit organised by the United States in April, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the United Kingdom is “halfway to net-zero”. It is correct that the UK is halfway on their net-zero policy. However, the claim is only mostly true, as research shows the scenario is not as optimistic as the British Prime Minister indicated.
The two-day Climate Summit held by the US from the 22nd to 23rd of April gathered world leaders to discuss a common response to the climate crisis. At the event, the British Prime Minister started his speech by thanking the American president Joe Biden “for returning the United States to the front rank of the fight against climate change” and proceeded to claim that the UK has already managed to decrease its carbon emissions with 50%.
Facts and figures
It is true that the UK managed to cut their carbon emissions from 794m tons to 389m tons in the time period of 1990 to 2020 – 51% of their net-zero goal (cutting a 100% of the 1990 levels by 2050), as shown by research from the British energy website CarbonBrief. However, it is worth noticing that the policy does not mention new funding nor does it consider carbon emissions from international aviation and shipping or imported goods into the United Kingdom. As a result, the policy leaves aside the environmental effect of clothes manufactures, for example, originated in the global south, but consumed by the United Kingdom. Moreover, farming, forestry and peatland, which accounts for 12% of the greenhouse gas emissions, are also virtually absent from the plan. Farmers neither get incentives to curb their emissions nor do they get funding to support them to change to sustainable production technique, the NewScientist mentions.
Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic had a clear impact in last year’s numbers. According to the government’s energy use data, only in 2020 there was a 11% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to a 3,7% reduction pattern based on the average of the levels from the seven years before, this shows how much the sanitary emergency circumstance contributed to a greener world. China, for example, already had a rebound on their emissions, exceeding the levels of the whole year of 2019 only in the last semester of 2020, re-enabling the economy after the lockdown. The same happened in Brazil, India and the United States, according to statistics by the International Energy Agency (IEA):
Aiming to “turn the UK into the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance”, Johnson announced a government plan to promote a “green recovery” from COVID-19 in November 2020. It includes increasing the manufacturing bases of electric vehicles, becoming a world leader in carbon capture technology and using hydrogen for heating and cooking. Nevertheless, experts state that these changes will be inadequate for meeting their net-zero goal by 2050.
NewScientist states that the most obvious shortcoming of the 10-point plan is money. The plan announced an amount of 12 billion pounds of funding in total, but only 4 billion pounds or only even 3 billion pounds are for brand-new investments to support sustainability, according to a government spokesperson quoted in an article by The Guardian. The article goes on by mentioning that some analysts believe the government should implement longer-term mechanisms to ensure that emerging low-carbon technologies pay for themselves over time. “The Prime Minister doesn’t say who will pay for carbon capture in the long run”, Myles Allen, an Oxford University professor of geosystem science, mentioned in The Guardian. Furthermore, he states the fact that it is fine to start with public funds, but it is not fair to taxpayers to invest so much money without a simple business plan for the private sector to take over.
Carbon Brief’s policy editor Simon Evans said, for example, while the country did good by ditching coal power, “it has made little progress on transport, buildings, etc.”. Allen requests a “really simple solution” for financing and reaching the net-zero by 2050 by spreading the cost of the carbon capture over the entire fuel industry and its customers to keep it manageable and fair for everyone in the UK.
To sum up, the Prime Minister’s claim that the UK is halfway to their net-zero point is mostly true. However, the conditions in which this goal was met should not be disregarded.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Ana Luísa Lobo Bailosa and Darja Novak, Artevelde University of Applied Sciences, Belgium
Leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions in the box below. Take note: your response is moderated.