Net Zero Carbon Emissions Target and Climate Change: Role of Technological and Lifestyle Efforts

This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate on 6 February 2020 on technological and lifestyle efforts to address climate change, and to meet the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.

On 6 February 2020, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion moved by Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour) that “this House takes note, further to the report by UK FIRES, Absolute Zero, published in November 2019, of technological and lifestyle efforts (1) to address climate change, and (2) to meet the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target”.

UK FIRES is a research collaboration between five UK universities, the purpose of which is to investigate how to improve resource efficiency in industry. In November 2019 it published Absolute Zero, a report that describes how the UK could eliminate all its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The authors contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 (as amended). This would mean not using carbon credits and including international shipping and aviation in the UK’s carbon calculations.

UK FIRES also argues that politicians and other commentators have placed too much confidence in technologies that are not proven at scale to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Absolute Zero does not include any role for carbon capture and storage or hydrogen as a source of energy in its description of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the Committee on Climate Change states that these technologies will be key in reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions.

This briefing provides an overview of the Absolute Zero report, background to the UK greenhouse gas emissions target and an overview of the Government’s clean growth strategy. It then provides brief descriptions of some of the technological and lifestyle measures that have been advocated to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It compares assessments by UK FIRES, the Committee on Climate Change and the Centre for Alternative Technology about the potential and suitability of these measures.

Further reading on the net zero target, the Clean Growth Strategy, and various technologies is suggested in the relevant sections. General further reading is suggested at the end of the document.