What does net zero mean?

Net zero refers to balancing the total emissions produced with the total emissions sequestered or offset, so that overall zero emissions are released.

It will be hard to bring emissions completely to zero so a small amount of ‘negative emissions’ – drawing carbon dioxide from the air, e.g. by planting more trees – will be needed to balance those emissions that remain. Hence the aim is ‘net zero’ emissions.


Why adopt a net zero target?

The current national emissions target for the UK was set out in the Climate Change Act (2008). This was the world’s first legally binding climate change target and put the UK at the forefront of climate policy. The current emission target is an:

80% emission reduction against 1990 levels by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change created five carbon budgets to ensure that we stay on track in meeting this overall target. The first carbon budget was met and the UK outperformed on the second budget, which was a 31% emission reduction by 2017. The UK is also set to outperform on the third carbon budget. However, the UK is not on track to meet the fourth (51% by 2025) and fifth (57% by 2030) carbon budgets. This suggests that much stronger targets are required.

Current Plans are not sufficient: 

As they stand, the plans as outlined in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy are not sufficient to achieve the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (2023-2032). However, the strategy does state that the UK will need to legislate for a net zero emissions target at some point in the future.

Maintain status as world leader in climate change advancements:

In order to maintain its role as a leader in climate policy, the UK must step up. Europe is moving ahead with their zero carbon target. In June 2018, the European Commission was tasked with delivering a new strategy by April 2019 that sets out how the EU could ensure net zero emissions by 2050.

Other nations, such as Norway and Sweden have already set net-zero targets in line with the Paris Accord. France, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Netherland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden are among the countries that signed up to the “Carbon Neutrality Coalition” at the ‘Macron summit’ on climate change in December. You can read the declaration of the Coalition here

The public support is there:

A report from Bright Blue found:

  • 63% of UK adults believe that the UK should be a global leader in tackling climate change.

  • The vision of a net zero economy is strongly supported by the UK public, including by both younger and Conservative voters.

Date of Publication: 21.08.2018