The UK Picture

  • The UK was instrumental in setting up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the early 1990s.
  • The UK has produced world-leading climate science for decades.
    The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act was the world’s first legislation designed to limit climate change.
  • Although there are dissenters, the Climate Change Act retains cross-party support at Westminster (in contrast to the polarised position in the United States, Australia and some other countries).
  • The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions had peaked before 1990 and have continued to fall at a rate that makes the Climate Change Act targets seem achievable.
  • However, if emissions from manufactured and imported goods are included, the UK’s current emissions are little changed from 1990.
    In March 2016, the Government announced that it would amend the Climate Change Act to require a long-term goal of achieving ‘net zero emissions’ at some time between 2050 and 2100, to be defined by the independent Committee on Climate Change.
  • The independent Committee on Climate Change has warned that the UK is currently not on track to meet medium-term emissions reductions targets for around 2030, even without factoring in emissions from imported goods.

In short, the UK is not on track to deliver on its rather weak commitment made under the December 2015 Paris Agreement.
The goal of ‘net zero emissions’ in the second half of this century is in the Paris Agreement as a global goal that is essential if the global temperature is to be stabilised below 2 °C of warming. ‘Net zero emissions’ is a very challenging goal, but not an impossible one. We know of two reputable studies that explore what it might mean for the UK:

  • The late Professor David McKay’s ‘Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air’ (available as a book and free on-line) explores different scenarios, some using nuclear energy and some not. He does not make any judgement on which would be preferable.
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ study develops a scenario where the UK’s current level of economic activity is sustained using only indigenous renewable sources, with no nuclear. It involves a complete transformation of the country’s landscape and a major change in eating habits to a healthier, low-meat, diet, but the numbers add up.

We in GlosCAN think that these scenarios indicate the logical outcome of current Government policy in the decades to come, and that, through education and the media, these ideas should be moving away from the climate activist fringe into the mainstream of national thinking about the future.