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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published a new report, Hotting up, which demonstrates that there is a strong scientific, technological, legal, and political case for the UK Government to achieve deeper decarbonisation in the decades ahead, including through the adoption of new legal net zero emission target.

The report shows that over the past decade: climate science has developed to such an extent that it highlights the need for urgent and deeper action to tackle climate change; decarbonisation in some sectors of the economy is now much cheaper and in others is more practical because of innovations, including technologies which are now operating or soon will be; and, finally, progress in the international legal framework, especially the ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement, has made the UK’s climate targets less ambitious than the international goals to which it is committed.

The report also contains the results of new polling of the British public on the impacts of and policies on climate change.

  • 51% percent of UK adults are more concerned about climate change than they were ten years ago when the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed.
  • 64% of UK adults agree that the UK should aim to cut its carbon emissions to zero in the next few decades, so it does not add any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, including a clear majority (58%) of Conservative voters.

As this is the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act 2008, Bright Blue is pushing for the UK Government to announce this year a new legal net zero emissions target to enable deep decarbonisation in the decades ahead.

Commenting Sam Hall, Bright Blue Head of Research and co-author of the report, says:

“The UK has a long tradition of international leadership on tackling climate change. This year is the tenth anniversary of the UK’s Climate Change Act, which the Conservative Party in Opposition was instrumental in passing. Many other countries, such as Sweden and Mexico, have drawn heavily on it when designing their own climate laws.

“This year, as other countries consider adopting stronger climate targets in order to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement, this Conservative Government has another opportunity to lead by making the UK the first G7 country to enshrine in law a net zero emissions target.

“Eliminating entirely the UK’s domestic emissions is essential for properly tackling climate change. At the same time, it could help increase the ambition of other countries’ climate targets and support new UK low-carbon industries that can export their products and services abroad. Indeed, this could be a key component of the UK Government’s post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ strategy.”

Commenting the Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Energy and Clean Growth Minister, says:

“I welcome this report and the huge progress it celebrates in the costs savings and scale of decarbonisation achieved since the Climate Change Act landed on the statute book ten years ago. I’m also hugely heartened by the ongoing growth in support for climate action it details, a ringing endorsement not just of the persuasiveness of good science and good sense, but of the growing realisation that climate action also now drives innovation, and a growth in prosperity for all. The UK is a world leader in this clean growth – since 1990 we have outpaced the G7, growing our economy by more than two thirds while cutting emissions by over 40%.

“The UK was the first to bring in the landmark Climate Change Act 10 years ago and many other nations have since followed our lead. Having strong legal frameworks and long term targets has given government as well as industry the confidence to act for the long term and take bold decisions, and we understand the need to revisit and update these targets where appropriate. We also understand the key role of good science and independent expertise which is why we created the Committee on Climate Change to advise us and, as I recently announced, we will be seeking their advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.”

Commenting Simon Clarke MP, member of the Treasury Select Committee, says:

“This excellent report sets out why the scientific, technological and legal case for the UK to establish a net zero target is so strong. With clean technologies tumbling in cost and transforming our economy and society, the UK has the opportunity to lead the world in ensuring the Paris Agreement is delivered. Bright Blue are right: the time to put net zero into law has come.”

Bright Blue’s main recommendations in Hotting up are:

  • Enshrine in law a net zero greenhouse gas emission target in line with the Paris Agreement. The Government should ask the CCC to advise on an appropriate date for achieving net zero greenhouse emissions, so that the UK can make an equitable contribution to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Allow limited flexibility to meet the target by using carbon permits. The limit on the number of permits allowed should be based on the CCC’s advice on what proportion of UK emissions cannot feasibly be eliminated. Given the rapid pace of technological innovation, this carbon permit limit should be reviewed regularly.
  • Fund farmers to store carbon on their land. The funding should be delivered through a new market-based commissioning scheme for rural payments that should be established when the UK leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Farmers, land owners, and land managers would bid through an online reverse auction to receive contracts to deliver particular measures. Additional private funding for this scheme could come from mandating UK businesses to purchase domestic carbon permits to offset their domestic emissions.
  • Establish and lead an international net zero alliance. Similar to the UK and Canada’s Powering Past Coal Alliance to encourage other countries to stop burning coal, this new net zero alliance should be distinct from, but complementary to, the Paris Agreement. Other countries, such as Norway and Sweden, have already adopted net zero emissions targets and could be potential partners on this campaign.