12 June 2019, source edie newsroom Sarah George

Green leaders have come out in force to praise Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to amend the Climate Change Act of 2008 to account for a net-zero target by 2050 – and urged Ministers to detail how they plan to reach this long-term goal as soon as possible.

The changes to the Climate Change Act will be laid in Parliament today 

The changes to the Climate Change Act will be laid in Parliament today

Key figures from across the UK’s green economy have welcomed the Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which last month advised Ministers that reaching net-zero by 2050 was the “right thing to do” for environmental, social and economic sustainability.

May will today (12 June) lay the statutory instrument to amend the Climate Change Act – both to alter its legally binding target for 2050, and to include all sectors, including international shipping and aviation – in Parliament.

Groups of politicians, industry bodies, pressure groups, associations and consultancies across the sustainability sector have heaped praise on the decision, hailing it as a “historic” moment for green policy in the UK.

But some have argued that 2050 might be too little, too late – particularly given that the Government has confirmed that it will deviate from the CCC recommendations through the use of international carbon credits. Umbrage has also been taken with the Government’s decision to accept a clause, proposed by Chancellor Philip Hammond, that will enable it to reverse the decision if other nations fail to follow suit within the next five years.

Here, edie rounds up what key figures from across the UK’s green economy make of the announcement.

Chair of the BEIS Committee chair Rachel Reeves MP said:

“I’m pleased that the Government has adopted the legislation on net zero which I introduced in Parliament. Strong, early action on cutting carbon emissions is vital and will help ensure the UK reaps the health, environmental, and business benefits of achieving net zero.

“This puts the UK firmly at the forefront of tackling climate change. However, this commitment can only be the first step. The Government will now need to come forward with the co-ordinated policies, actions, and regulations needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said:

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement, but it is too little, too late from the person who got rid of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, scrapped funding for solar panels, home energy efficiency and hybrid electric vehicle grants.

“We now have just 11 years to avoid irreversible damage to our water and food life support systems, decarbonise our economy and stop dumping our plastic overseas.

“We need greener finance, greener fashion, greener cities and greener diets to meet that challenge for our children. Where is the plan to achieve this?”

IEMA’s chief policy adviser Martin Baxter said:

“We welcome the Government’s decision to set a legally binding 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target, reaffirming the UK’s climate leadership position.  Tacking the urgency of climate change and meeting the 2050 target will require comprehensive policies and all parts of the economy and society will need to play their part in rapidly reducing UK emissions.”

“We also believe that the forthcoming Office for Environmental Protection, being established through the new Environment Act, must be given powers to enforce climate change laws to give build trust and provide assurance to the public and businesses that government policies and plans to them are consistent with the long-term net-zero target.”

Green Alliance’s policy director Dustin Benton said:

“In a country as politically split as the UK, climate action is a unifier: the Prime Minister, the contenders to be her successor, opposition parties and the UK’s devolved nations all agree that we must end our contribution to climate change.”

“The UK has moved first, but the rest of the world is following fast. If ever there was a reason to be the host of the pivotal 2020 climate conference, this move to be the first major economy to legislate for net zero is it

“Legislating for net zero means we now have to deliver it: if the UK is to get on track, and to benefit from all the upsides of clean growth, we need a budget and spending review that is equal to the challenge. The next Chancellor must count not only the cost of climate action but the benefits it will bring to the UK.”

CDP’s executive chair Paul Dickinson said:

“This is good news both for the world and for the UK economy. In the face of the climate crisis, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions must be the direction of travel, and reaching it by 2050 is in line with the IPCC’s latest research and the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement: to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. To get there, we need to consider the whole economy, including the UK’s contributions to climate change globally. Climate change does not respect national borders.

“Setting the target into law is a vital step, but now the government needs to ensure the policies and funding are in place to implement it. There is broad support among the business community and the wider public, with concern at an all-time high. From CDP’s work with companies, cities and investors over the last 18 years we know climate change has quickly risen up the agenda to become a boardroom and city hall issue. 

“And there’s absolutely no question that this is the right economic choice. The financial cost of climate impacts is enormous while the benefits of a low-carbon economy are even greater. Just last week CDP’s latest climate analysis showed that just over 200 of the world’s biggest companies are exposed to close to $1trn of potential climate risks in the next five years. But it’s not all bad news. They also reported business opportunities from the low-carbon transition worth $2.1trn and, crucially, estimated the value of these opportunities to be over seven times the cost of achieving them. The business case is clear, the time to act is now.”

TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We now need a fair and robust plan to get there that everyone can get behind. That means government, business and trade unions working together on a ‘just transition’.

“Working people must have a say through transition agreements in their workplaces, and there must be a guaranteed path to high-quality work in a green economy for anyone whose job may be at risk.”

Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett said: 

“In the dying days of a premiership characterised by chronic inaction on climate breakdown, this sends a powerful message to industry and investors that the age of fossil fuels is over. But it is disappointing that the government has ignored its climate advisors’ recommendation to exclude carbon offsets – as well as caving into Treasury pressure to review the target in five years’ time. 

“Fiddling the figures would put a huge dent in our ability to avoid catastrophic climate change – and the government’s credibility for taking this issue seriously. Having declared a climate emergency, Parliament must act to close these loopholes.

“2050 is still too slow to address catastrophic climate change, the UK can and must go faster. The next Prime Minister must legislate to end our contribution to climate breakdown earlier, put carbon-cutting at the centre of policymaking and pull the plug on plans for more roads, runways and fracking. It’s now time to build the carbon-free future that science requires, and the public is so loudly demanding.”

Kevin Hollinrake MP said:

“As the first country to introduce long-term legally-binding carbon reduction targets (in 2008), the leading nation in the G20 for cutting emissions, and with a low-carbon sector that already supports almost 400,000 jobs nationwide, the UK can be proud of our action to tackle climate change so far. However, we know that there is more to be done, and this important legislation is the right step forward, presenting an important opportunity to invest, innovate and grow our clean-tech industries.”

James Heappey MP said:

“Alongside innovation and investment opportunities, clean growth offers the jobs and skills of the future. A decarbonised economy could generate more than 65 million new low-carbon jobs worldwide by 2030, while increased investment in energy efficient, low-carbon homes will lower consumer bills as well as emissions. Today’s net zero target is a step towards the next stage in British business and development: the zero-carbon future.”

Zac Goldsmith MP said:

“The UK can now set the gold standard on climate leadership and responsibility. As we work towards a zero-carbon future, we can also take the opportunity to promote clean growth with our global partners. The fight against climate change can only be tackled by global cooperation. As the first major economy to set a net zero emissions target in law, this new target offers the UK the prospect to lead worldwide concerted action.”

Caroline Lucas MP said:

“This is good news but it does not go far or fast enough. The five-year ‘re-assessment’ undermines business certainty; dithering at the door, looking over your shoulder, isn’t leadership.

“And it’s wrong that the plans mean outsourcing our responsibility to poorer countries.”

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) director Richard Black said:

“This is probably the most important UK move on climate change since Parliament brought in the Climate Change Act more than a decade ago. By becoming the first major nation to set a net zero target in national legislation, ahead of the likes of France and Germany, it restores the UK to a position of international leadership with a target that’s fully in line with science and will deliver the UK’s fair share of keeping global warming below the ‘safe’ level of 1.5 Celsius.

“It brings the clarity that business has been asking for, enabling companies to make rational investment decisions and so make the clean energy transition as efficient as possible.

“And it’s going to act as a massive spur to the UK’s bid to host the UN climate summit in 2020, because the UK can now legitimately say that it has done what all governments will have to soon, committing to ending its contribution to climate change.”

WWF’s head of climate Change Gareth Redmond King said:

“Today’s net-zero announcement is a crucial first step, demonstrating that those in power are beginning to listen and acknowledge the critical state of our planet. 

“If we want future generations to live on a viable planet where the mass extinctions we’re witnessing halt, food security is ensured and coastal regions are safe, then Government must accelerate policies and commit resource to slashing emissions, heat our homes with clean energy and make climate action a priority across all departments.

“The past decade has shown what is possible – we know what is needed to get to net-zero and the speed of development in innovative technologies like solar panels and wind turbines should give us hope that we can go even further and faster, reaching net zero by 2045.”

The Aldersgate Group’s director Nick Molho said:

This is a crucial step forward and a landmark achievement for the Prime Minister and all the ministers and MPs who have supported an increase in the UK’s climate ambition. The message from business is clear: the UK will strengthen the competitiveness of its economy by being the first major economy to legislate an ambitious net-zero target – as long as this is supported by a comprehensive policy package.

“We now look to the Prime Minister’s successor to introduce a robust policy package that puts the UK on a credible path to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 and supports business investment and competitiveness. It is important that the review planned in five years’ time does not undermine the robustness of this package. As we have seen recently in the UK’s offshore wind and recycling sectors, complementing clear targets with ambitious innovation and market creation policies is what rapidly brings down the costs of new technologies and grows domestic supply chains.”

Marks & Spencer’s director of sustainable business Mike Barry said:

“It’s hugely important for business that the UK Government has committed to net-zero for 2050. There is a climate crisis threatening economic and social stability that must be acted on.

“Equally, there is an enormous green growth opportunity with attendant jobs and exports for the nations that lead. As we step into the 2020s UK business must respond to this long-term gauntlet with pace, scale and entrepreneurship.”

WSP’s UK director of sustainability David Symons said:

“It’s great news that the Government’s set out legislation to make the UK a net-zero economy by 2050. And it’s more than great news. It’s a huge opportunity for the UK economy, it shows just the leadership that a progressive, global economy should take, and it will help to preserve the UK’s wonderful landscape, nature and way of life that makes Britain special.

Make no mistake though, delivering a net-zero economy needs more than words and legislation. It needs action. Even today, most of the UK’s carbon reductions have come from the power sector. Building and transport emissions have barely budged over the past five years. The UK’s not on course to even meet current targets of 80% reduction by 2050, let alone a net zero target. We need to up the pace and take action much faster. And that will require some tough decisions.”

BT’s chief digital impact and sustainability officer Andy Wales said:

“Since the Paris Agreement, BT and others have called on policymakers to set more ambitious targets and provide the right legislation so that we can take quicker, more meaningful climate action. As BT works towards its own net-zero target, it’s great to see the Government send a real signal of intent which we hope will inspire others as we look to tackle one of society’s biggest challenges.”

Coca-Cola European Partners’ vice president & general manager Leendert den Hollander said:

“A clear sense of direction from the Government’s policies on climate change is vital to allow everyone in business to plan for a zero-carbon future.”

Ingka Group’s (the holding company for Ikea stores in the UK) chief executive Jesper Brodin said: 

“We hope this can inspire more European leaders to follow and implement net-zero emission goals and policies. For every part of society to contribute to the Paris Agreement and reach climate neutrality by 2050, we need an EU-wide long-term strategy.”   

CAFOD’s director of advocacy Neil Thorns said:

“This commitment is one of the most important any government could make. In the face of some dark clouds internationally, putting this target in law shows our Government is acting as a good global citizen.

“This must be undertaken honestly, transparently and without caveats – especially if the UK is seeking to show leadership credentials ahead of its bid to host [COP26]. We need everyone in Government to get behind delivering on the target urgently and put in place the policies we need to turn the target from a goal into a reality.”

The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change’s (IIGCC) chief executive Stephanie Pfeifer said:

“We strongly welcome the decision by the UK Government to implement the advice of the CCC to set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Such a clear signal of global climate leadership will contribute to increased investor confidence and help to ensure that the many opportunities for economic growth, new jobs, technological innovation and increased competitiveness are realised.

“Investors look forward to working closely with the UK Government as this target is implemented so that all supporting policy measures and instruments are designed to attract the private capital which is required to create a clean economy.”

Abundance Investment’s co-founder and joint managing director Bruce Davis said:

“Writing net-zero into the landmark Climate Change Act will give investors and businesses the long-term confidence they need to build the great transition that is needed to make the UK a leader on action to deal with the urgent climate crisis and remove carbon emissions from our economy and society. The opportunity is for that transition to be a ‘just transition’ which addresses the pressing social and economic issues which the UK faces and deliver not just a greener but a better world too for current and future generations to enjoy.”

Triodos Bank UK’s chief executive Bevis Watts said: 

We welcome the commitment to the UK achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the work starts now to identify the credible policy measures and concerted actions needed to ensure that the target can be achieved.

“Reviewing the role of the banking and the financial sector – and ensuring it is using money to make the transition to a fairer and more sustainable society – is one of the most important elements of achieving this ambition.”

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s director Nicky Philpott said: 

Health professionals welcome today’s announcement that the UK is committing to a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, because we know that doing so is vital to our physical and mental health and the health of future generations.

“Climate change remains the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century. By cutting fossil-fuel-driven air pollution and encouraging more active lifestyles, we could instead realise the huge health benefits of early and transformative action. We are encouraged to see the Government begin to recognise this, and call on ministers to set out a bold policy programme to reach this target without delay.”

Ashden’s head of cities Simon Brammer said:

“While aiming for net-zero by 2050 is an improvement on aiming for an 80% cut by the same date, it is still woefully short of what is required. The whole world should be aiming for net-zero by 2030 or soon after if we want to avoid a descent into climate chaos.

“The UK should actually be cutting faster than this so that developing countries can create the vital infrastructure and energy access they need to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ashden is calling on local authorities in the UK to act on the Climate Emergency we are facing, by showing that climate action doesn’t have to be seen as ‘short term pain for long term gain’, but that the benefits can be seen and felt now. Cutting carbon emissions now immediately improves people’s health, creates huge opportunities for the economy, improves resilience for the future and will ensure the success of our economy.”

Executive Director for Global Conservation, RSPB’s executive director for global conservation Martin Harper said:

“It’s great news that the Government is legislating to bring our climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Now we need bold policies and investments to turn this into a reality – including a massive improvement in how we protect, restore and manage land. Nature has a key role to play, by locking up carbon in wildlife-rich habitats such as peatlands and woodlands.”

Woodland Trust’s head of campaigning Adam Cormack said:

“The Woodland Trust welcomes the adoption by Government of the CCC’s advice to commit to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. This sets us on a challenging but necessarily achievable pathway that will require all sectors of business and society to decarbonise. The expansion of the UK’s tree canopy cover and restoration of its globally significant peatlands are an essential part of the solution.

“There is a unique opportunity to link the response to the climate crisis to the equally vital response to the biodiversity crisis. In creating new woodlands and planting more trees into the landscape, existing woodland and other semi-natural habitats can be extended, restored and linked to enable wildlife to respond to climate change over the coming decades. The scale of the challenge is immense but so are the potential benefits to people and wildlife alike.”

The Climate Group’s campaigns director Clara Goldsmith said: 

“Accepting the CCC’s advice is a historic moment, setting the UK on a trajectory to end our contribution to climate change. Government must now step up to ensure our short-term emissions cuts match this longer-term target, ramping up investment in electric cars, more energy efficient homes and restoring our British nature.

“The last ten years have shown incredible cost reductions in clean technologies, so we firmly believe the UK can go even further, driving innovation to reach net zero before 2045.”

ClimateCare’s chairman Edward Hanrahan said:

“We welcome the announcement today; even though it’s a long-term target, it’s a very important step in the progress towards clear, focused legislation to reduce UK emissions to responsible levels.

“The message is clear, businesses will need to eliminate what [emissions] they can to start with, then they must reduce what they can’t eliminate, and, finally, they will need to offset the remainder through financing an equivalent amount of emissions reductions outside of the business.

“Offsets will come from both international and UK projects which reduce emissions at scale but also deliver unequalled outcomes in terms of adaptation, economic development, biodiversity, gender, education, food security; all key climate-change-related issues. In the UK specifically, we have a unique opportunity to hit many objectives at once around biodiversity, flood management and using soil carbon, peatland restoration, afforestation and rewilding to rehabilitate marginal farmland.

“This will help us address not only the climate emergency but also the declared environmental emergency. The direction of travel is clear, let’s not wait for further individual policies to come into force. Let’s all act now.”

The Carbon Trust’s chief executive Tom Delay said: 

“This ambitious new net-zero by 2050 climate change target for the UK sends an important message – environmental sustainability and economic prosperity can go hand in hand. We do not have to compromise on climate action.

“The CCC’s 1.5C recommendation was pivotal, making a compelling case for action in response to the existential crisis we are facing. The UK’s Climate Change Act set the global standard in climate leadership and this raises the bar. It is in the UK’s national interest to drive action, allowing businesses and the wider civil society to benefit from the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.”

Ørsted’s UK managing director Matthew Wright said: 

“Today, the UK Government has taken a historic step in the fight against climate change. As the first major economy to legislate for a net-zero target, the UK shows a bold commitment to a cleaner and greener future.

“As the global leader in offshore wind, with 3.7GW already in operation in the UK, we are proud to be leading the country’s green transformation. Let’s create a world that runs entirely on green energy.”

SolarCentury’s chief executive Frans van den Heuvel: 

“The move by Theresa May to commit the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is undoubtedly an important step in tacking the biggest issue of our time, but the Government must move with urgency to deliver on its pledge, with other countries such as Finland and Norway having already committed to net-zero in shorter timeframes.

“Building on the current momentum, we need the UK Government to take the policy brakes off the solar sector – removing persistent subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels to put solar on a level playing field with all other energy generation technologies. The fact that the government is proposing a 20% VAT rate on solar home systems, when just 5% VAT is added to a bag of coal, says it all.

“It is time to get serious on renewable energy if the country is to combat climate chaos and deliver on the net zero targets set out by the UK Government today. The Green New Deal sets out the pathway to do this and propel the country into a prosperous, clean new era.”

Shell’s country chair for the UK Sinead Lynch said:

“Shell fully supports this ambition for the UK to move faster. Achieving net-zero in the UK by 2050 will require unprecedented collaboration between government, business and society. Government needs to set clear and ambitious targets and create the right policies to enable companies like Shell to adapt and respond quickly. We stand ready to play our part.”

LowCVP’s managing director Andy Eastlake said: 

“This is an important moment in terms of our national efforts to tackle climate change and one with international significance, butut it’s vital that targets are backed by robust, practical and fair policies that can deliver the objectives. Climate change cannot be an optional extra, it must be front and centre when we’re developing policies in transport, as well as other key areas of the economy.

“Transport is one of the most challenging areas for decarbonisation and has, so far, proved one of the most intractable. There are real signs of progress – in road transport at least – but much more must be done by Government and all other key stakeholders to ramp up progress and help ensure that the UK is, at least, amongst countries leading the world into a new green, clean industrial revolution.” 

The STA’s chief executive Chris Hewett said: 

Enshrining net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 into law is a vital step in tackling the climate emergency, but long-term targets are meaningless without action. In the case of solar and energy storage, the Government must move quickly to remove barriers that have needlessly slowed progress.

“In contrast to the view of the Treasury, the whole country will benefit from the energy transition if Government creates a level playing field for all clean energy generation technologies to compete on. Solar and wind are now the lowest cost forms of power generation in the UK, yet there is no route to market and government is continuing to subsidise the fossil fuels it is aiming to phase out.

 “A 100% renewable energy system, including powering heat and transport, is entirely possible but only with the integration of energy storage, which represents a notable industrial opportunity for the UK.” 

Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science Lord Stern said:

“This is a historic move by the UK Government and an act of true international leadership for which the Prime Minister deserves great credit.

“A priority for the Treasury and all parts of government is now to put in place policies and institutions which can foster the change at the pace we need. 

 In particular, the Treasury should recognise that the significant investments required for the zero-carbon transition will yield very substantial economic returns, such as reductions in local air pollution and greater energy efficiency, as well as the avoided impacts of dangerous climate change. This is a very attractive path of inclusive and clean growth with great advantages nationally and internationally for the UK.  

“It is unfortunate that the Government is including a review of the target after five years, as this could create uncertainty for businesses, ultimately making the transition more expensive.”

PwC’s climate change adviser Lit Ping Low said: 

“While not a surprise, this announcement is a big deal that will drive the behaviours and tech innovations needed to meet the ambitious target.

“The CCC has been advocating the net zero target for some time, and the UK government had signalled that it was moving in this direction.  But signals are not the same as commitment.  The new target gives businesses clarity that low-carbon targets must be an essential part of business strategy and decisions, whether it’s about building or upgrading their infrastructure, developing new products and services, implementing policies for employees, or sourcing supplies.” 

UK Green Building Council’s chief executive Julie Hitigoyen said:

“UKGBC knows that the built environment contains some of the biggest opportunities to slash emissions. We must accelerate action in all areas including improving the efficiency of our ageing building stock and overcoming the challenge of decarbonising heat. To do this, we need to see both policy and industry leadership to ensure the built environment is at the vanguard of emissions reductions. There is no time to lose, now is the time to act.

“This is a powerful and positive move by the Prime Minister that will give her time in office a legacy beyond Brexit.”