What Exactly Is Net Zero – And How Does It Affect You?

Rishi Sunak is looking to weaken the government's carbon pledge.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning to change the UK's net zero by 2050 pledge.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is planning to change the UK's net zero by 2050 pledge.
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Rishi Sunak intends to weaken the UK’s key climate policy of reaching net zero by 2050.

But what is this policy, why does it matter and how does it affect you?

What is net zero?

This is a pledge countries around the world made to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions released by humans by the year 2050.

Former PM Boris Johnson signed off on the UK’s net zero policy in 2020.

Scientists say it’s a key part of the world’s bid to limit global temperature increases to 1.5C by 2100.

Net zero emissions doesn’t mean we stop producing emissions altogether, but that the amount produced is cancelled out by actions taken to absorb some of the CO2 already in the atmosphere (often called offsetting).

Countries have promised to plant trees and restore peatlands to help naturally reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and industrial means of capturing carbon are in the works.

Offsetting alone will not fix the crisis, though, so we need to stop the problem at its source – and stop burning fossil fuels.

What might change?

Sunak is expected to roll a proposed ban on the sale petrol and diesel cars back from 2030 to 2035.

Gas boilers were also meant to be phased out, but that process is likely to be delayed.

After his plans were leaked on Wednesday, he said the government was still committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but was looking to do it in a “more proportionate plans”.

Why does this policy matter?

The UK has already faced scrutiny for falling behind its plan of action on the climate, even from the government’s own independent climate advisers.

Meanwhile, the UN wants countries to bring their net zero targets forward by a decade, because of the “growing climate disaster”.

Approximately 140 countries have promised to try and reach net zero – but not everyone has promised to meet the 2050 deadline, such as China, India and Russia.

Even so, if all of the signatories managed to fulfil their promise, that would reduce 90% of global greenhouse emissions.

How will this affect you?

Greenhouse gases include CO2, produced by the burning of oil, gas and coal, and methane, produced by farming and landfill.

That means reaching net zero could require the general public to start reducing their energy use and travel via planes, improving their home insulation and energy efficiency or moving to electric vehicles.

The public may be asked to replace gas central heating with electric systems, like heat pumps, or cut back on red meat.

Moving to renewable electricity and away from fossil fuels may mean we all spend more money in the short-term.

That’s why, as home secretary Suella Braverman put it, the government is “not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people” and is looking to change its green policies.

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