CCC report to government: Phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to end UK contribution to global warming

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has produced its report to government, on how the UK should aim to become zero-carbon by 2050. This comes over 10 years after the Climate Change Act was passed, and higher ambition is now needed than the earlier target of an 80% cut on the 1990 level by 2050. The world is on  course for a temperature rise of 3 – 4°C  later this century unless drastic action is taken. Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to try to limit the rise to 1.5°C. The CCC hopes its targets can be achieved with known technologies, though it places a lot of faith in capturing carbon – not done on any scale at present. The CCC says the changes should be put into law as soon as possible, ideally before September 2019. There are current policies moving in the right direction, but “these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.” …”The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency.”


Phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to end UK contribution to global warming

The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

Ten years after the Climate Change Act became law, now is the right moment to set a more ambitious goal. Achieving a ‘net-zero’ target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement; the pact which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015 to curb dramatically the polluting gases that cause climate change.

Scotland has greater potential to remove pollution from its economy than the UK overall, and can credibly adopt a more ambitious target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2045.

Wales has slightly lower opportunities than the UK as a whole, and should adopt a target for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

This is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change. Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are apparent increasingly. In the last ten years, pledges to reduce emissions by the countries of the world have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4°C by the end of the century to around 3°C.  Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasised the vital importance of limiting further warming to as low a level as possible and the need for deep and rapid emissions reductions in order to do so.

The CCC’s recommended targets, which cover all sectors of the UK, Scottish and Welsh economies, are achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and should be put into law as soon as possible, the Committee says.

Falls in cost for some of the key zero-carbon technologies mean that achieving net-zero is now possible within the economic cost that Parliament originally accepted when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008.

The Committee’s report, requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018, finds that:

  • The foundations are in place throughout the UK and the policies required to deliver key pillars of a net-zero economy are already active or in development. These include: a supply of low-carbon electricity (which will need to quadruple by 2050), efficient buildings and low-carbon heating (required throughout the UK’s building stock), electric vehicles (which should be the only option from 2035 or earlier), developing carbon capture and storage technology and low-carbon hydrogen (which are a necessity not an option), stopping biodegradable waste going to landfill, phasing-out potent fluorinated gases, increasing tree planting, and measures to reduce emissions on farms. However, these policies must be urgently strengthened and must deliver tangible emissions reductions – current policy is not enough even for existing targets.
  • Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible, given that most sectors of the economy will need to cut their emissions to zero by 2050. The Committee’s conclusion that the UK can achieve a net-zero GHG target by 2050 and at acceptable cost is entirely contingent on the introduction without delay of clear, stable and well-designed policies across the emitting sectors of the economy. Government must set the direction and provide the urgency. The public will need to be engaged if the transition is to succeed. Serious plans are needed to clean up the UK’s heating systems, to deliver the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage technology and to drive transformational change in how we use our land.
  • The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable but they must be fairly distributed. Rapid cost reductions in essential technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles mean that a net-zero greenhouse gas target can be met at an annual cost of up to 1-2% of GDP to 2050. However, the costs of the transition must be fair, and must be perceived as such by workers and energy bill payers. The Committee recommends that the Treasury reviews how the remaining costs of achieving net- zero can be managed in a fair way for consumers and businesses.

There are multiple benefits of the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Committee’s report shows. These include benefits to people’s health from better air quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles, more active travel thanks to increased rates of cycling and walking, healthier diets, and increased recreational benefits from changes to land use.

In addition, the UK could receive an industrial boost as it leads the way in low-carbon products and services including electric vehicles, finance and engineering, carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies with potential benefits for exports, productivity and jobs.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response. The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part – we explain how in our new report – but it can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted. The Government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.”

Notes to editors

  1. A net-zero target would require a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is referred to as ‘net’ as the expectation is that it would be met with some remaining sources of emissions which would need to be offset by removals of COfrom the atmosphere – by growing trees, for example.


Some extracts from the report, dealing with aviation:  

Challenges that have not yet been confronted must now be addressed by government. Industry must be largely decarbonised, heavy goods vehicles must also switch to low-carbon fuel sources, emissions from international aviationand shipping cannot be ignored, and a fifth of our agricultural land must shift to alternative uses that support emissions reduction: afforestation, biomass production and peatland restoration. Where there are remaining emissions these must be fully offset by removing CO₂ from the atmosphere and permanently sequestering it, for example by using sustainable bioenergy in combination with CCS.


• The UK should legislate as soon as possible to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The target can be legislated as a 100% reduction in greenhouse gases (GHGs) from 1990 and should cover all sectors of the economy, including international aviationand shipping.

• The aim should be to meet the target through UK domestic effort, without relying on international carbon units (or ‘credits’).


Setting and pursuing a UK net-zero GHG target for 2050 will confirm the UK as a leader among the developed countries on climate action. It demonstrates important principles of including emissions from all greenhouse gases and all sources (i.e. including international aviation and shipping), not relying on international offsetting and targeting ‘highest possible ambition’. Crucially it would be supported by the strong statutory emissions framework of the Climate Change Act.


Taken together, these measures would reduce UK emissions by 95-96% from 1990 to 2050. Tackling the remaining 4-5% would require some use of options that currently appear more speculative. That could involve greater shifts in diet and land use alongside more limited aviation demand growth, a large contribution from emerging technologies to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere (e.g. ‘direct air capture’), or successful development of a major supply of carbonneutral synthetic fuels (e.g. produced from algae or renewable power).


Aviation, agriculture and land must play their part. Updated evidence for aviationpoints to greater potential to reduce emissions, although we still expect the sector to emit more than any other in 2050. Our 80% scenarios did not assume any diet change, or major land use changes on the freed-up land, but these are both needed for a net-zero target.


The annual costs of removing emissions from the atmosphere are potentially large in our scenarios (e.g. of the order of £10 billion in 2050, possibly as high as £20 billion). These could be paid by industries, like aviation, that have not reduced their own emissions to zero. That would imply increasing costs (e.g. for flights) from 2035, as emission removals scale up in our scenarios.


In setting a net-zero target, these actions must be supplemented by stronger approaches to policy for industry, land use, HGVs, aviation and shipping, and GHG removals.

• Aviation and shipping. ICAO and IMO, the international agencies for aviation and shipping, have adopted targets to tackle emissions. The scenarios in this report go beyond those targets, suggesting increased ambition and stronger levers will be required in the long run. We will write to the Government later this year on its approach to aviation, building on the advice in this report.


GHG removals. The Government should expand support for early-stage research across the range of greenhouse gas (GHG) removal options, including trials and demonstration projects. It should also signal the longer-term market, which is clearly needed to meet a net-zero target, by developing the governance rules and market mechanisms to pay for emissions removals. Aviationstands out as an obvious sector that could require removals to offset its emissions – either through CORSIA (the international aviation industry’s planned trading scheme), the EU ETS or unilaterally the UK could support a net-zero target for aviation, requiring that all emissions are offset by removals.


[On the UK current target of 80% cut on the 1990 level by 2050]:

The Committee was clear that “any climate strategy should cover all GHGs and all sectors” and that the 80% target was designed on that basis. However, the Climate Change Bill did not include emissions from international aviation and shipping. The Committee therefore recommended that the target be legislated as “at least 80%” to cover the possibility that the sectors covered by the Bill may need to compensate for lower reductions in emissions from international aviation and shipping.


Sometimes ‘net-zero’ is used to refer to CO2 only, and sometimes it refers to all GHGs. There are some merits in each, which we consider in this report. Our recommendation in this report (Chapter 8) is that the UK should set a net-zero target to cover all GHGs and all sectors, including international aviationand shipping.


We make a detailed assessment in Chapters 5-7 of whether deeper reductions in UK emissions than currently targeted are feasible whilst still delivering on other government objectives and what these would cost. That assessment recognises areas where the UK’s challenge may be harder than that of other countries, for example due to our high population density and relatively high emissions from aviation.


Non-CO2 effects from aviation, which include the emission of nitrogen oxides and contrails, is an additional example of a human effect on the climate system that is also largely short-lived. Finding a way to eliminate these effects (which have an overall warming effect on the climate) before global temperatures peak would contribute to a lower peak warming if done without a compensating increase in CO2 emissions.


Alongside these big emitters the rest of the world is a large and growing part of global emissions. G20 countries make up around 78% of global emissions today but around half are currently not on track to achieve their NDCs.  International aviation and shipping, which are excluded from national totals, represent around 2.5% of global GHG emissions and continued growing rapidly over recent years.


In 2017, UK GHG emissions105 per person were estimated to be 7.6 tCO2e/person, compared to a global average of 7.2 tCO2e/person (including emissions from land-use change and international aviationand shipping emissions).


[There is a short section on CORSIA on page 117]

Emissions from aviation can be limited through improvements to fuel efficiency, constraints on demand growth and switching to alternative fuels. However, deep emissions reductions in the aviation sector will be more difficult to achieve compared to other sectors (see Technical Report, Chapter 6). Current trends suggest a large share of emissions from aviation will have to be compensated through reductions elsewhere or through emissions removal from the atmosphere.


Do it now’: UK must set zero-carbon target for 2050, say official advisers

Committee says legally binding target is necessary, achievable and could spur global action

The UK government must immediately set a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, its official advisers have said, signalling an end to the nation’s role in driving climate change.

Doing so will be challenging, said the Committee on Climate Change, meaning the end of petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers, less meat on plates, quadrupling clean electricity generation and planting an estimated 1.5bn trees.

It will require tens of billions of pounds of investment every year, the CCC said – about 1-2% of Britain’s GDP. But not acting would be far more costly and the changes would deliver a cleaner and healthier society, the advisers said, as well as potentially bolstering the UK economy and jobs.

The CCC’s request for urgent action comes after LabourScottish National party and the Welsh assembly declared a climate emergency. It also follows a week of high-profile protests by the Extinction Rebellion group and Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired the global school strikes, telling the UK government that its support for fossil fuels and airport expansion is “beyond absurd”.

The UK is forecast to miss existing carbon targets in 2025 and 2030. Hitting zero emissions in 2050 will require a leap in the ambition of government policy, particularly on heating and transport.

Quick guide

What zero emissions in 2050 would mean for the UK

The Committee on Climate Change says cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 is necessary, affordable and desirable. Here are some of the actions needed to make that happen:

• Petrol and diesel cars banned from sale ideally by 2030 and 2035 at the latest.

• Quadrupling clean electricity production from wind, solar and perhaps nuclear, plus batteries to store it and connections to Europe to share the load.

• Connection of new homes to the gas grid ending in 2025, with boilers using clean hydrogen or replaced by electric powered heat pumps. Plus, all homes and appliances being highly efficient.  

• Beef, lamb and dairy consumption falling by 20%, though this is far lower than other studies recommend and a bigger shift to plant-based diets would make meeting the zero target easier.

• A fifth of all farmland – 15% of the UK – being converted to tree planting and growing biofuel crops and restoration of peat bogs. This is vital to take CO2 out of the air to balance unavoidable emissions from cattle and planes.

• 1.5bn new trees will be needed, meaning more than 150 football pitches a day of new forests from now to 2050.

• Flying would not be banned, but the number of flights will depend on how much airlines can cut emissions with electric planes or biofuels. 

The zero emissions goal would fulfil the pledge made by the UK when it signed the Paris agreement in 2015 to limit the rise in global temperature to as close to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as possible. In October, the world’s scientists warned of severe global impacts above this rise.

The CCC target includes flying and shipping and all greenhouse gases, and allows no offsetting of emissions abroad, making it the toughest of any major economy.

The CCC said it could prove a vital catalyst in unlocking matching pledges from other countries. The current plans of the world’s nations would lead to 3C of warming and catastrophic damage.

The former environment secretary John Gummer, now Lord Deben, the chair of the CCC, said the zero emissions target for 2050 must be passed into law immediately. “We [must] do it now. The urgency is not just a matter of a shortness of time, but the quicker you do it, the cheaper it is.”

Referring to the climate protests, he added: “Recent events have shown how strongly people feel.”

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the CCC, said planning to cut emissions rapidly could begin as soon as the zero emissions target was set. “I would like to see it happen as soon as possible, preferably before the big UN summit in September,” he added.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, is demanding nations bring ambitious pledges to that summit to deliver the action needed.

Gummer said cutting emissions to zero would incur significant costs but would not lower living standards if the costs were shared in a fair way.

“We are not asking people to lead a miserable life, we are looking to have as fulfilled a life as today, but to do it in a way that takes responsibility for the future by respecting the planet which gives us life,” he said. “We would have cleaner air and we would live in a better society.”

As a wealthy nation, and one with a long history of carbon emissions, the UK had a responsibility to lead in the fight against global warming, Gummer said. “If we want the world to win then we have got to set that example.”

The CCC target is for “net zero” because some activities, such as flying and farming, will unavoidably produce some emissions in 2050. But these will be balanced by taking carbon out of the air by growing trees or burying CO2 under the ground.

The government did not immediately accept the recommendations but Greg Clark, the business secretary, whose department has responsibility for climate change, said: “This report sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.”

Rain Newton-Smith, the chief economist of the business group the CBI, said: “The CCC recommendations mark a new dawn for climate change action in the UK. Recent protests have shown the strength of public passion and sense of urgency. What we need now is a supportive and timely response from the government.”

Steve Waygood, the chief responsible investment officer of Aviva Investors, said: “The CCC’s report makes a significant contribution, showing that a net zero economy is necessary, feasible and desirable.”

Businesses including Siemens, Legal & General, BT, Thames Water, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Coca-Cola all backed the target.

There is wide political support for the 2050 net zero target, with almost 200 MPs already in favour. Michael Howard, a former Tory party leader and now a peer, said: “The science is clear – we must not shirk from this challenge, nor should we be afraid of it.”

Laurence Tubiana, who was France’s climate change ambassador when the Paris deal was sealed, said the CCC report was hugely important, adding: “I look forward to seeing many other countries in Europe, and beyond, follow suit.”

Many scientists backed the CCC report. Prof Paul Ekins of University College London said: “Hopefully it will lay to rest once and for all the misperception that deep decarbonisation is either impossibly difficult or impossibly expensive.”

But Prof Mark Maslin, also at UCL, said: “The zero-carbon target is essential, but the date of 2050 is too far in the future. The UK must adopt a 2030 zero-carbon target.”



Statement from the No 3rd Runway Coalition

2 May 2019

Responding to the Net Zero report by the Committee on Climate Change, Paul McGuinness (Chair, No 3rd Runway Coalition), said:

“It’s notable that the Committee on Climate Change has gone out of its way to state that aviation must contribute to its new target of net-zero emissions by 2050 – no doubt mindful that aviation has doubled its emissions since 1990, despite a 40% fall across the whole economy”.

“This new target will almost certainly mean that Heathrow, already the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK, will be unable to expand – unless government punitively offsets it with ham-fisted restrictions on regional economic activity and, in the process, surrenders any hope of creating a fairer, more balanced economy”.


For more information, contact Rob Barnstone, 07806 947050 or


See earlier: 


Letter from Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC – to Grayling on “Aviation 2050” the DfT’s aviation strategy green paper

In a letter to Chris Grayling, dated 12th February, Lord Deben provides the Committee on Climate Change’s views on the current aviation strategy green paper consultation, Aviation 2050 – The future of UK aviation [the aviation green paper]. He says “You will be aware that my Committee has been asked by Ministers to offer advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s statutory framework, including when ‘net-zero’ emissions can be achieved. A stronger UK target would require more effort from all sectors, including aviation. We intend to provide an updated view on the appropriate long-term ambition for aviation emissions within our advice on the UK’s long-term targets. We will publish our report in spring. Following that, we will write to you directly to set out the implications for the Aviation Strategy.”  It also says: “The final white paper should further clarify that this will be met on the basis of actual emissions, rather than by relying on international offset credits.”  And “Achieving aviation emissions at or below 2005 levels in 2050 will require contributions from all parts of the aviation sector,… It will also require steps to limit growth in demand. In the absence of a true zero-carbon plane, demand cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term.”  Read the whole letter.

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and earlier:

Government tries to deny its climate responsibility to aim for 1.5C temperature rise, in pushing for 3rd Heathrow runway

The pre-trial hearing for the series of legal challenges against the Government’s decision to expand Heathrow takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday 15th January.  In legal correspondence between the defendant (Government) and one of the claimants, Plan B Earth, the Government argues that “[Plan B] is wrong to assert that “Government policy is to limit warming to the more stringent standard of 1.5˚C and “well below” 2˚C’.  This means that the Government is effectively denying that its own policy is to limit warming to the level that has been agreed internationally is required to avoid climate breakdown. The legal challenge brought by Plan B Earth and Friends of the Earth assert that the Government decision to proceed with Heathrow expansion was unlawful as it failed to appropriately consider climate change. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described the case as “the iconic battleground against climate change”.  The Committee on Climate Change had previously expressed surprise that neither the commitments in the Climate Change Act 2008 nor the Paris Agreement (2015) were referenced in the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (aka. the plans for a 3rd Heathrow runway).This is a huge inconsistency.

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