Young people to advise UK on hitting net zero emissions by 2050

public concern over the crisis is at record levels
A climate protest in Sheffield. Public concern over the crisis is at record levels. Photograph: Ioannis Alexopoulos/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock

Thirty people aged 15-24 will assess how commitment by Theresa May should be met

— Young people will advise ministers on how the UK should meet the target of ending carbon emissions by 2050, to which Theresa May committed the nation on Wednesday.

The commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions was described as “historic” by leading figures. But the UK is not yet on track to meet its 2025 and 2030 goals, so a huge transformation of energy, transport and buildings is urgently required.

Thirty young people, aged 15-24, will assess how this should be done, starting in July. They will present their recommendations to ministers after the summer. The Youth Steering Group was founded in February to provide perspectives on all issues and has now been tasked with examining the climate, wildlife and plastic crises.

Young people striking from school in the UK and around the world have pushed public concern over the climate emergency to record levels. Following the visit in April by the first school striker, Greta Thunberg, the environment has risen to third in the public’s concerns, with only Brexit and health ranked higher.

Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, the chair of the British Youth Council, the charity hosting the Youth Steering Group, said: “Young people are both the custodians and the inheritors of the natural world. We are proud to be working with the government to assess progress, and set out our views on the priorities for environmental protection and conservation.”

Izzy Warren of the UK Student Climate Network, which helps coordinate the school strikes, said: “[We] have undoubtedly played an integral role in pressuring the government to act. However, the legislation and target year for 2050 is severely lacking in ambition and disregards any sense of climate justice. Simply put, it’s too late.”

The government followed the guidance of its official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), in setting the 2050 date, but others argue it should be sooner.

Clara Goldsmith at the Climate Coalition said: “The past 10 years have shown incredible cost reductions in clean technologies, so we firmly believe the UK can go even further, driving innovation to reach net zero before 2045.”

Prof Mark Maslin of University College London said acting sooner would create more green jobs: “We must adopt a 2030 zero carbon target.”

The government did not accept the CCC’s advice that the net zero target for 2050 should be met solely by cutting emissions in the UK, and not buying carbon offsets from abroad. A government spokesperson said the option of offsets was “a sensible contingency that we don’t intend to use” and might help reduce the cost of cutting emissions.

Alison Doig at Christian Aid said this was very disappointing. “It is vital the government emissions reductions are not merely outsourced through dodgy loopholes. Otherwise this target will end up as state-sponsored greenwashing,” she said.

However, the CCC gave a more sanguine reaction, while emphasising that meeting the 2050 target by cutting domestic emissions was preferable and entirely possible. Chris Stark, the CCC chief executive, said: “If the world is addressing climate change as it must, then by mid-century, when we really need these credits, they will be very expensive because every country in the world will be demanding them. But I don’t feel I can be overly critical of the government if they want to try and make them work [as a contingency].”.

The UK government’s net zero target was hailed as “historic” by both Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the 2015 Paris climate deal, and Lord Nicholas Stern at the London School of Economics. Stern led a landmark 2006 review of the economics of climate change, which concluded: “The benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.”

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, had told the prime minister the costs of the meeting the net zero target could be £1tn over 30 years, but was widely criticised as having failed to factor in the benefits.

Stern said: “The Treasury should recognise that the significant investments required for the zero-carbon transition will yield very substantial economic returns, such as reductions in air pollution and greater energy efficiency, as well as the avoided impacts of dangerous climate change.

“This is a very attractive path of inclusive and clean growth with great advantages nationally and internationally for the UK.”

The prime minister said there would be a review of the net zero target in five years “to confirm other countries are taking similarly ambitious action and ensuring that our industries do not face unfair competition”, a move seen as a concession to Hammond. But Stern said the review was unfortunate: “This could create uncertainty for businesses, ultimately making the transition more expensive.”


by Damian Carrington | The Guardian

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