We are experiencing a climate emergency. Runaway greenhouse gas emissions from our factories, food, homes and cars are triggering forest fires in the Arctic, snow in the Sahara, biblical scale storms in Mozambique and killer heatwaves in the UK. We are losing species at the fastest rate since the dinosaurs’ extinction. Our generation grew up fearing a nuclear emergency. Our children’s nightmares will be the fear of living through a global warming “tipping point”.
Reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is no longer a lofty eco-warrior ambition but a national call to reshape our economy, and end the carbon era.
The good news is that net-zero will be good for jobs, innovation, business, our waistlines and our economy. The UK could proudly say we have ended our contribution to global warming. And we might just save the planet in the process.
Today’s landmark report from the Committee on Climate Change set out how we can do it. It will require change everywhere, by everyone, in every sector and at speed. To win this fight, we need greener cities, greener cars, greener diets, greener finance, and a much greener Government.
Government ministers point out that we have made faster progress on emissions reductions compared with other G20 countries, spurred by a precipitous drop in the cost of renewables and our move away from coal. But this masks policy vacuums and failure elsewhere. Emissions from our homes, industry and agriculture have flatlined and last year our transport emissions increased.
We need to ban new petrol and diesel car registrations much sooner than the Government’s 2040 target, and include aviation and shipping emissions in our carbon accounts. For homes, it means heating not by gas but by hydrogen, installing heat pumps and district heating systems. We will need to reverse the government’s disastrous 90% cuts to home insultation if we are to have more energy efficient homes where fewer people die of the cold.
Industry will need carbon capture and storage technologies, which then-Chancellor George Osborne cancelled in 2015. The Government should ‘green-light’ this technology to ensure that the UK seizes the opportunities of this modern, green industry. We must invest in the one proven, scalable technology for carbon capture and storage – trees – and plant double our planting rate to 20,000 hectares a year.
The bad news is this will cost 1-2% of GDP by 2050. But the good news is that is the same price tag we estimated for reducing emissions by 80% when Labour passed the Climate Change Act in 2008. And the cost of doing nothing will be much higher, not just in pounds and dollars, but in human lives and misery.
Taking action now will deliver new jobs, sustainable and globally innovative industries, to reinvigorate our industrial towns and cities. Greener cities, where people can move and breathe, mean less air pollution, better mental health, and fitter people. Eating less meat will not only cut emissions but tackle our rising diabetes and obesity epidemics, lessening the burden on our NHS.
We have the evidence, technology and know-how to reimagine and reshape how we eat, travel, consume, work and build our future. We have the opportunity to build a society which is equitable, prosperous, healthy and happy. Committing to net-zero is as exciting as it is daunting. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Mary Creagh is the Labour MP for Wakefield and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee