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expert reaction to uk’s legally binding 2050 net zero target

Reactions to new government plan to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050.


Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The UK is leading the way in policy making to tackle climate change and today’s upgrade to the Climate Change Act is another very welcome contribution. We must now press on with how we deliver a cleaner, more prosperous economy that sets a global standard.

“There is rightly debate about the costs and practicalities of delivering on decarbonising our economy but that debate must also be informed by the costs of not taking action.  We must also think about the potential benefits of being a world leader in developing the new technologies that will deliver a low carbon future.

“The UK is at the heart of this global debate because of political leadership and the outstanding quality of our science. That is where we want to stay.”



Prof Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, University of Oxford, said:

“When we published the papers saying the world would have to get to net zero emissions almost exactly 10 years ago, I would not have predicted this would have been acknowledged in the Paris Agreement only 6 years later, and now going into national legislation. But there is much to be done, not least working out who will pay for the transition: taxpayers and consumers, or the energy industry – still the most profitable industry in the world?  Time will tell.”


Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“In amongst the leadership shenanigans and Brexit furore it would be easy to overlook this news. We shouldn’t. It’s momentous. Achieving net zero by 2050 will change all our lives. It will transform the ways we travel, the homes we live in and the food we eat. It will reshape our towns, cities and countryside, delivering cleaner air and water alongside a safer climate for generations to come.

“This ‘Net Zero Bill’ is just the first step on a hard, steep road to ending the UK’s contribution to global warming. It will need future governments and all their departments to up their game on climate change, especially the fiscal fear factory that is the Treasury. Time will tell what legacy it represents for the current Prime Minister, but it should at least ensure there are wheat fields for our great grandchildren to run through too.”


Prof Paul Ekins, Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said:

“Theresa May is to be congratulated for taking the ‘net zero’ bull by the horns. What is now important is that Parliament in a cross-party way endorses this decision as strongly as possible. As I and my colleagues on the Committee on Climate Change’s Advisory Group on the Costs and Benefits of Net Zero said in our report, the way to minimise the costs and maximise the benefits of deep decarbonisation is to pursue it early, with absolute clarity of policy and purpose. This will bring in private investment and generate cost reductions across a range of low-carbon technologies, as has already happened so dramatically with solar PV and offshore wind. In contrast, the way to maximise the costs and minimise the benefits is to respond as the Treasury seems to have done, by treating investments in the future energy system, many of which would have been required whether it was low-carbon or not, as ‘costs’ with a negative impact on the economy instead of as providing the foundation for future industrial growth and jobs in the industries of the future.”


Prof Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at UCL, said:

“This bold commitment offers political wisdom, responsibility and leadership. We have seen before that where the UK innovates on this issue, others follow. What better statement of our national integrity and world role? The rallying cry is to abolish the fossil fuel element of environmental damage. To do so is an issue of enlightened economic and social self-interest, and of intergenerational justice. The aim is to deliver future generations a planet which they can nurture and on which they can truly prosper.”


Prof Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at UCL, said:

“UK Government is taking the advice of the Climate Change Committee, revising the UK 2050 carbon emissions target to net zero.  This is because the science is very clear, that if we are to have any chance of keeping the world from warming more than 2˚C then the whole world must hit zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

“The Government target, however, is not ambitious enough. Britain as one of the leading countries in the fight against climate change and we must adopt a 2030 zero carbon target. This will give us 10 years to put in place win-win solutions that reduce carbon emissions, save money and make Britain a better, cleaner place to live.  It will ensure Britain becomes the leading country in the global green economy securing news jobs and business while helping to save the planet.”


 Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, LSE, said:

“The Committee on Climate Change last month published a detailed analysis showing how the UK can reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, which would be consistent with a path that would give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than 1.5 Celsius degrees. The Committee’s analysis showed that significant investments would be required to achieve the target, but that they are affordable. Indeed, robust analysis shows that these investments could be net beneficial for the economy, resulting not only in the avoided impacts of dangerous climate change but also, for example, reductions in local air pollution and improvements in energy efficiency and productivity. The UK has already reduced its production of greenhouse gas emissions by about 44 per cent since 1990 while also increasing its GDP by more than 75 percent.  It is also clear that the sooner that the net zero target is enshrined in law the sooner that businesses and communities can start to put in place cost-effective ways to eliminate their emissions by the middle of the century. Delaying legislation would create unnecessary uncertainty that would ultimately make it more expensive to tackle climate change. Setting a legal target for net zero emissions would set a strong international example and continue the UK’s track record of global leadership on climate action.”



Dr Jo House, Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol, IPCC lead author and former Government Advisor on Climate Change, said:

“It is fantastic to see the Theresa May respond to the science and the massive public support for tackling the climate crisis, let’s hope her successor has the decency to put concrete actions in place.”



Prof Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said:

“The reason that achieving zero net emissions really does matter, and actually needed across the planet, is because any carbon dioxide emitted has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Hence increases in temperature are a response to cumulative emissions, and so to stabilise global warming – for instance at two degrees – requires net emissions to drop to zero”.


Prof Cameron Hepburn, Director and Professor of Environmental Economics at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:

 “The UK is not the first country with a net zero commitment, nor will it be the last. The clarity of a net zero commitment is likely to lead to investment and innovation on a huge scale. There will be costs, of course. But the experience with renewable energy shows that when we put our minds to it, innovation drives costs down and opens up new horizons and market opportunities. Far from it begin unaffordable, humanity can’t afford not to adopt such commitments in every country – UK leadership is to be welcomed.”

“Hitting net zero in time will be easier and more valuable to the UK with some clever strategies. This includes identifying the “sensitive intervention points”, where modest interventions can have a dramatic effect on the climate.”

“Corporates and the financial sector can think about their targets in a similar way: can they meet the net zero challenge enshrined in the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment”


Tim Kruger, James Martin Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, Environmental Change Institute and Institute for Science Innovation and Society, University of Oxford, said:

“This is a very positive development. It is clear that there is wide-spread support across the political spectrum for achieving Net Zero by 2050. We should welcome the fact that even in these fractious times, that this is something that the vast majority of MPs agree upon. It stands in stark contrast to the situation in countries like the US and Australia, where views on climate change diverge fundamentally based on political affiliation. 

“Committing to a Net Zero target is excellent news. The evidence from climate science and the analysis of the Committee on Climate Change is that globally we will need to achieve net zero emissions in order to stabilise the rise in global temperatures between 1.5C and 2C, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

“Getting to Net Zero will require both steep reductions in emissions and the development of approaches that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It’s not an either/or situation – we will need both.

“While a commitment (under the Climate Change Act 2008) to achieving net zero emissions is essential, it is only the start of the process. We need to see not only the legislation and the promises, but also action to make those promises real. 

“We need to commit resources to undertake research, development, demonstration and deployment of proposed techniques to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and to ensure that any techniques that are developed are done in a way that does not cause environmental harms and that are socially acceptable. 

“There is a need for policy development that will create appropriate incentives to ‘clean up the mess’ of past emissions. Great care must be taken in the development of such policy so that they do not create perverse incentives, gaming of the system or premature lock-in to particular approaches.

“We need to guard against people relaxing on cutting emissions. There is a danger that even discussing such techniques may undermine the will to cut emissions. It is important to emphasise that proposed approaches are at a very early stage of development – we can’t rely on them as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ – but at the same time we do need to develop them.”


Previous expert reaction to the Net Zero report published by The Committee on Climate Change on 2nd ay 2019 can be found here:


Declared interests

None received. 


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