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How will the UK implement its 2050 carbon pledge?

How will the UK implement its 2050 carbon pledge?

The UK is set to become the first major economy to commit to reaching “net zero” emissions by 2050. The announcement has widely been welcomed as a significant – and achievable – milestone.

However, the climate requires results, not noble gestures, and the hard work of actually reducing emissions is only just getting started.

Close to home, our daily lives are set to be transformed – how we power our homes, travel, feed ourselves and farm our land.

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Some significant changes are happening already – new coal-free records are being set every week and diesel and petrol cars are set to be phased out by 2040. Established zero-emissions technology like wind and solar power are all rapidly growing.

Significant challenges still remain, such as how to decarbonise building emissions, which could be expensive and disruptive to millions of households. The UK has already reduced emissions by around 44 per cent since 1990 and the net zero 2050 pledge is likely to lead to more investment and innovation in renewable energies.

However, some sectors are harder to decarbonise, such as shipping and aviation. This means in order to reach net zero by 2050 we will need to not only drastically reduce emissions but take CO2 out of the atmosphere too.

This can be done in two ways: the first is natural gas removal which basically means planting trees and restoring natural carbon sinks such as peatlands.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the countryside should look much more old-fashioned, with mixed farming practices replacing the vast monoculture landscapes of today. Farmers should be financially incentivised to make these changes through government subsidies.

The bigger task is creating technology that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere. This is much more problematic as it currently does not exist.

In 2015, the government cancelled its £1bn competition to build a large-scale model of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, breaking a Conservative election pledge. Last month, a new centre was built in Cambridge with the aim of working out how we remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sir David King, who is coordinating the Centre for Climate Repair project, said at the time: “What we continue to do, what we do that is new, and what we plan to do over the next 10 to 12 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 [years].”

If proven to work, CCS technology could quickly be adopted by other countries and many scientists are urging the government to invest as quickly as possible.

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1/46 Canary Wharf

A protester gives a thumbs up as he stalls a DLR train at Canary Wharf station in London

Reuters

2/46 City of London

Protesters hold up traffic on Upper Thames Street in the City of London

Getty

3/46 Canary Wharf

Protesters hold a banner as they hold up a DLR train at Canary Wharf station in London

Reuters

4/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers remove plants that were placed in the occupation of Waterloo Bridge

PA

5/46 Oxford Circus

Police officers arrive at Oxford Circus as they prepare to remove protesters during the fifth day of a coordinated protest by the Extinction Rebellion group, April 19

Getty

6/46 Waterloo Bridge

An activist waters the plants at the occupation on Waterloo Bridge

PA

7/46 Heathrow airport

Undeterred by over 400 arrests, climate change activists continued their demonstration into a fifth day in London with a small protest at the country’s main Heathrow Airport, along with the ongoing protest camps at other iconic locations around the British capital

Reuters

8/46 Oxford Circus

Protesters with the words ‘glued on’ written on their hands hold hands as police officers arrive at Oxford Circus

Getty

9/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers circle the lorry that serves as the central stage to the Waterloo Bridge occupation, repeating their tactic from a earlier at the Oxford Circus occupation

Reuters

10/46 Oxford Circus

Oxford Circus reopens after being closed for days due to occupation

AFP/Getty

11/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers prepare to move in on the occupation of Waterloo Bridge

PA

12/46 Waterloo Bridge

Activists relax on a sofa at the occupation on Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

13/46 Oxford Circus

British actress Emma Thompson talks to members of the media from atop the pink boat after police officers surrounded the boat being used as a stage as climate change activists occupy the road junction at Oxford Circus in central London during the fifth day of environmental protesst by the Extinction Rebellion group

AFP

14/46 Waterloo Bridge

An Extinction Rebellion demonstrator is carried away by police on Waterloo Bridge

PA

15/46 Waterloo Bridge

Activists on Waterloo Bridge have made a garden for their occupation site, April 20

Reuters

16/46 Oxford Circus

Demonstrators began blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on April 15 at the start of a civil disobedience campaign calling for governments to declare an ecological emergency over climate change, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice”

Reuters

17/46 Oxford Circus

Emma Thompson joins the Extinction Rebellion protest at Oxford Circus. Thompson spoke from the pink boat at the centre of the occupation

AFP/Getty

18/46 Heathrow airport

Extinction Rebellion protesters sit outside Heathrow Airport on April 19

Reuters

19/46 Heathrow airport

Climate protestors hold a demo outside Heathrow Airport

Getty

20/46 Waterloo Bridge

Police officers detain a climate change activist at Waterloo Bridge

Reuters

21/46 Marble Arch

Protesters prepare for another day at Marble Arch as the Extinction Rebellion protests enter their fifth day

Getty

22/46 Oxford Circus

British actress Emma Thompson gives an address from the stage atop the pink boat

AFP/Getty

23/46 Oxford Circus

Actress Emma Thompson takes a photo with a Extinction Rebellion demonstrator

PA

24/46 Oxford Circus

Climate change activists blockade Oxford Circus on the third day of an environmental protest by the Extinction Rebellion group

AFP/Getty

25/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change activists stand atop a bus shelter as they take part in a blockade of Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

26/46 Canary Wharf

Police is seen as climate change activists demonstrate during the Extinction Rebellion protest, at Canary Wharf DLR station in London

Reuters

27/46 Waterloo Bridge

Police speak to climate change activists blockading Waterloo bridge

AFP/Getty

28/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

29/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change activists, one (right) with her hand glued to the underside of a truck parked across Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

30/46 Oxford Circus

Environmental campaigners protest in the centre of Oxford Circus

Getty

31/46 Jeremy Corbyn’s Home

Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion protest sit after glueing themselves to the front fence of Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s house

Reuters

32/46 Marble Arch

Dozens of tents have been pitched at Marble Arch in a large scale occupation

Reuters

33/46 Canary Wharf station

Police remove climate activists who glued themselves on top of a train at Canary Wharf station

EPA

34/46 Oxford Circus

Police forces carry a protester

AP

35/46 Canary Wharf station

A climate change protestor who glued his hand to a window halts a DLR train

AFP/Getty

36/46 Waterloo Bridge

PA

37/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

38/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

39/46 Oxford Circus

PA

40/46 Oxford Circus

Getty

41/46 Waterloo Bridge

Pedestrians and a cyclist pass graffiti drawn by protestors who blocked Waterloo Bridge

AP

42/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change protestors practice yoga on Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

43/46 Waterloo Bridge

A climate change activist gestures while being detained by police officers

Reuters

44/46 Waterloo Bridge

Protestors sit on the road

AP

45/46 Waterloo Bridge

PA

46/46 Oxford Circus

AP

1/46 Canary Wharf

A protester gives a thumbs up as he stalls a DLR train at Canary Wharf station in London

Reuters

2/46 City of London

Protesters hold up traffic on Upper Thames Street in the City of London

Getty

3/46 Canary Wharf

Protesters hold a banner as they hold up a DLR train at Canary Wharf station in London

Reuters

4/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers remove plants that were placed in the occupation of Waterloo Bridge

PA

5/46 Oxford Circus

Police officers arrive at Oxford Circus as they prepare to remove protesters during the fifth day of a coordinated protest by the Extinction Rebellion group, April 19

Getty

6/46 Waterloo Bridge

An activist waters the plants at the occupation on Waterloo Bridge

PA

7/46 Heathrow airport

Undeterred by over 400 arrests, climate change activists continued their demonstration into a fifth day in London with a small protest at the country’s main Heathrow Airport, along with the ongoing protest camps at other iconic locations around the British capital

Reuters

8/46 Oxford Circus

Protesters with the words ‘glued on’ written on their hands hold hands as police officers arrive at Oxford Circus

Getty

9/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers circle the lorry that serves as the central stage to the Waterloo Bridge occupation, repeating their tactic from a earlier at the Oxford Circus occupation

Reuters

10/46 Oxford Circus

Oxford Circus reopens after being closed for days due to occupation

AFP/Getty

11/46 Waterloo Bridge

Officers prepare to move in on the occupation of Waterloo Bridge

PA

12/46 Waterloo Bridge

Activists relax on a sofa at the occupation on Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

13/46 Oxford Circus

British actress Emma Thompson talks to members of the media from atop the pink boat after police officers surrounded the boat being used as a stage as climate change activists occupy the road junction at Oxford Circus in central London during the fifth day of environmental protesst by the Extinction Rebellion group

AFP

14/46 Waterloo Bridge

An Extinction Rebellion demonstrator is carried away by police on Waterloo Bridge

PA

15/46 Waterloo Bridge

Activists on Waterloo Bridge have made a garden for their occupation site, April 20

Reuters

16/46 Oxford Circus

Demonstrators began blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on April 15 at the start of a civil disobedience campaign calling for governments to declare an ecological emergency over climate change, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice”

Reuters

17/46 Oxford Circus

Emma Thompson joins the Extinction Rebellion protest at Oxford Circus. Thompson spoke from the pink boat at the centre of the occupation

AFP/Getty

18/46 Heathrow airport

Extinction Rebellion protesters sit outside Heathrow Airport on April 19

Reuters

19/46 Heathrow airport

Climate protestors hold a demo outside Heathrow Airport

Getty

20/46 Waterloo Bridge

Police officers detain a climate change activist at Waterloo Bridge

Reuters

21/46 Marble Arch

Protesters prepare for another day at Marble Arch as the Extinction Rebellion protests enter their fifth day

Getty

22/46 Oxford Circus

British actress Emma Thompson gives an address from the stage atop the pink boat

AFP/Getty

23/46 Oxford Circus

Actress Emma Thompson takes a photo with a Extinction Rebellion demonstrator

PA

24/46 Oxford Circus

Climate change activists blockade Oxford Circus on the third day of an environmental protest by the Extinction Rebellion group

AFP/Getty

25/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change activists stand atop a bus shelter as they take part in a blockade of Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

26/46 Canary Wharf

Police is seen as climate change activists demonstrate during the Extinction Rebellion protest, at Canary Wharf DLR station in London

Reuters

27/46 Waterloo Bridge

Police speak to climate change activists blockading Waterloo bridge

AFP/Getty

28/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

29/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change activists, one (right) with her hand glued to the underside of a truck parked across Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

30/46 Oxford Circus

Environmental campaigners protest in the centre of Oxford Circus

Getty

31/46 Jeremy Corbyn’s Home

Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion protest sit after glueing themselves to the front fence of Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s house

Reuters

32/46 Marble Arch

Dozens of tents have been pitched at Marble Arch in a large scale occupation

Reuters

33/46 Canary Wharf station

Police remove climate activists who glued themselves on top of a train at Canary Wharf station

EPA

34/46 Oxford Circus

Police forces carry a protester

AP

35/46 Canary Wharf station

A climate change protestor who glued his hand to a window halts a DLR train

AFP/Getty

36/46 Waterloo Bridge

PA

37/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

38/46 Waterloo Bridge

EPA

39/46 Oxford Circus

PA

40/46 Oxford Circus

Getty

41/46 Waterloo Bridge

Pedestrians and a cyclist pass graffiti drawn by protestors who blocked Waterloo Bridge

AP

42/46 Waterloo Bridge

Climate change protestors practice yoga on Waterloo Bridge

AFP/Getty

43/46 Waterloo Bridge

A climate change activist gestures while being detained by police officers

Reuters

44/46 Waterloo Bridge

Protestors sit on the road

AP

45/46 Waterloo Bridge

PA

46/46 Oxford Circus

AP

David Reay, professor of carbon management and education at the University of Edinburgh, says the first CCS schemes should be up and running by the mid 2020s.

He said: “CCS will be absolutely vital [to reaching net zero], not just for the UK’s net zero target, but also for the global fall to zero carbon dioxide emissions that is needed by the middle of the century.

Fossil fuels will still be burnt around the world for years to come, so the faster we can roll out CCS at scale in the UK, the faster it can then be adopted by other nations and we can finally get emissions heading down instead of up.”

Professor Jon Gibbins, director of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre says spending money on types of CCS is likely to give “an infinitely greater return in terms of influencing global outcomes” than other types of expenditure on CO2 emission activities.   

Donald Trump on his discussion with Prince Charles on climate change, and whether he believes in it

He says the UK is only going to get to net zero if the rest of the world agrees to make ambitious promises. This is why new CCS technologies such as direct air capture (DAC) should be invested in quickly.

Unless technology is created that other countries – especially developing nations – can use, the UK target could look quite “parochial”.

“There seems to be an almost total neglect of this key aspect of the problem. It could be complacency that most people assume we can rely on the rest of the world going ahead as required. More likely it is an ‘elephant in the room’ problem,” said Professor Gibbins. 

If we’re going to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change, we need the whole world to be reaching net zero.

The zero emissions legislation is commendable but setting this target is the easy part. Creating new technologies that can be deployed all over the world in the next three decades will be one of the greatest challenges.  

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