As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, it was fitting that in 2008 the UK put in place the world’s first legally-binding climate change target, providing a legislative model that has since been followed by many other countries around the world. The UK now has the opportunity to show international leadership again, by setting a world-leading target to transform one of the world’s largest economies to ensure it is at net zero emissions by the middle of this century, all achieved without seeking any offsets outside its own borders.
Net zero is an ambitious and audacious goal. But with commitment, investment and sensible policy choices it is absolutely achievable at a realistic cost, at the same time as creating a thriving economy, good jobs, and new export opportunities for the UK. The longer the delay, the higher the cost of the transition. The sooner the UK acts, the greater the opportunities will be to innovate and benefit from a smooth and successful transition.
Organisations that truly understand the long-term risks and opportunities that climate change creates know that now is the time for bold action. Many of the world’s biggest corporates are moving ahead of governments by setting their own internal science-based targets to align their operations with higher levels of ambition than in the Paris Agreement. Investors, insurers and banks recognise the threat that climate change poses to global financial stability, at the same time as pushing for a fundamental shift in how finance is allocated to ensure it has greener outcomes.
Getting it right can result in fantastic outcomes. Take the offshore wind industry, which has benefitted from well over a decade of strong and prudent government support, based on an open dialogue with the industry. Today the UK is the unquestioned world leader in the sector, creating thousands of good quality new jobs in towns like Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen, driving massive inward investment, and supporting innovation that has resulted in the costs for this source of renewable electricity falling far below the most wildly optimistic expectations.
But consistency is hugely important. We saw tremendous progress being made through a government-backed structured programme of energy efficiency support for businesses, the public sector and households, strengthening national energy security, improving the comfort of workplaces, schools and homes, and saving vast sums of money in energy bills. But progress slowed as support and funding was withdrawn, and it has taken a concerted effort to get it going again. Clarity, continuity and certainty from government are key requirements for an effective transition.
Acting on the Committee on Climate Change’s advice to the government can be a significant turning point for the UK and the wider world, signalling that we are ready to listen to the best available scientific advice to safeguard the future of our economy and society from the serious risks posed by delayed transition. At a time of heightened public awareness and concern on climate change issues, the time is right for accelerating our response. We believe the transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy can and must be made. Doing it sooner will help the UK to do it at the lowest possible cost and benefit from the opportunities this can bring.