Ministers must set a more ambitious target for halting climate change, according to a report from the government’s climate advisers.
The Committee on Climate Change report says the government should set a target of reducing the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases to ‘net zero’ by 2050.
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are driving global temperature rises and making storms, floods and heatwaves more frequent and severe, hitting poor communities.
A net zero target would mean that emissions from cars, planes, buildings and farms would have to be reduced and not exceed the amount that could be removed from the air through measures such as tree-planting.
The recommendation comes after the UN’s science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that all countries must bring emissions down to zero by mid-century to avoid global temperatures rising 1.5C above levels seen before the industrial age.
Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at Catholic aid agency CAFOD, noted that allowing temperatures to exceed this level would jeopardise food and water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.
Warming above 1.5C would also increase the risk of devastating storms and floods like the cyclones which have hit Mozambique in recent weeks and lead to more frequent extreme heatwaves like that experienced in the UK and around the world last summer.
Mr Thorns said: “The Committee’s report brings us a step closer to the net zero target we need if we’re to avoid temperature rises exceeding the 1.5C level which will spell disaster for the world’s poorest communities.
“Now it’s up to the government to respond to the voices of voters up and down the country who expect ministers to urgently put the target in legislation and make it a reality with the benefits this will bring to our economy, our health and our homes.
“It’s also critical the government sets a target which is honest and transparent instead of relying on offsetting or outsourcing our emissions to other countries.”
The government is currently required by law to ensure emissions are 80 per cent lower by 2050 than they were in 1990.
This target was set in 2008 by Parliament in the Climate Change Act, a law which was regarded as world-leading at the time but which many argue needs to be made more ambitious in light of the latest science.
Scientists now say that emissions must be reduced further and more quickly than the goal set by the 2008 Act in order to keep temperature rises below the dangerous 1.5C threshold which world leaders committed to meet in the Paris Agreement.
The cost of solar and wind power has also plummeted faster than was anticipated in 2008, with renewable energy generating one-third of the UK’s electricity last year.
Actions to reduce emissions have already gained traction in the Catholic community in England and Wales following Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’, with thousands of churches having switched to renewable energy suppliers and parishes and schools having received CAFOD’s ‘Live Simply’ award.
Cutting emissions to zero will require generating more electricity from renewable energy, moving from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles and better-insulating homes.
Tree-planting and reducing flying and meat consumption will also be needed.
As well as helping to avoid dangerous temperature rises, this will lead to cleaner air, make homes warmer and help to create jobs.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong from the Archdiocese of Suva in Fiji – a country vulnerable to climate change – said he welcomed “the international leadership shown by the Committee on Climate Change with these recommendations.”
The archbishop said: “With its historic emissions and size of its economy, this is a hugely important global step by the UK and one I hope similar countries will replicate.”
Mr Thorns from CAFOD added: “The government has the opportunity to lead the world by presenting a serious and credible roadmap for how a major industrialised economy can play its part in halting climate change, but it needs to do this in the coming months. It mustn’t delay.”
Tell the government #TheTimeIsNow for an ambitious net zero target at a mass meeting of MPs and constituents on 26th June at cafod.org.uk/climatelobby
Picture: CAFOD staff and volunteers next to the solar panels on the roof of CAFOD’s office. (Thom Flint/CAFOD).