Perry: 'We want to understand how we will get to a zero-carbon economy in 2050'
The government has hinted at further details for the scope of the 'net zero' emissions review Ministers are set to instruct the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to carry out later this year.
Last month Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry revealed the government is to ask the CCC to review whether the UK's legally binding carbon targets are compatible with the Paris Agreement and in particular the goal to limit temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London last month, Perry said that "after the IPCC's report [on 1.5C scenarios] later this year, we will seeking the advice of the UK's independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK's long-term emissions reduction targets".
Experts have argued that for the UK to deliver its share towards the Paris Agreement's goal of 1.5C or 'well below' 2C it would have to deliver a net zero emission economy before 2050.
This week Perry provided the House of Commons with some more details on the remit for the imminent review, suggesting the government wanted "to understand how we will get to a zero-carbon economy in 2050".
In response to questions from Labour's Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner about why the official mid-century decarbonisation plan the government submitted to the UN only covered the period through to the early 2030s, Perry said the UK was the first country in the world to review its carbon targets for 2050.
"We are the first developed nation to have said that we want to understand how we will get to a zero-carbon economy in 2050," she said. "We were the first country in the world to ask how we will get to a decarbonised economy in 2050, and I would hope that we could enjoy cross-party support for something so vital."
The focus on 2050 could fuel speculation the government may look to strengthen the existing Climate Change Act rather than introduce new legislation. But observers said much will depend on the results of the CCC review, which could conceivably call for an earlier net zero emission target.
Sweden has notably adopted a net zero emission target for 2045 - a goal that Shell's recent scenario analysis on how to comply with the Paris Agreement suggested many other industrialised nations would have to match.
Richard Black of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said 2050 was likely to be the latest net zero target date the government could opt for. "Claire Perry's announcement almost certainly sets the UK on the road to a net zero economy by 2050 at the latest," he said. "The Committee on Climate Change is obliged to give advice in line with the latest science, which will in October mean the special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - and we know from the draft leaked in January that it is set to say that on meeting the 1.5C target means achieving net zero globally around mid-century."
He also argued the government should consider fast-tracking its review of current emissions targets, noting the UK was not technically the first country to look at setting a net zero goal. "Sweden has already set a net zero target of 2045 in law, and New Zealand's Productivity Commission published its draft plan last week," he said. "Other countries and indeed the European Union are also look at net zero roadmaps, so there is a danger that if the UK doesn't get on with it, by the time October comes it won't be looking quite so much like a global leader."
Ed Matthew of think tank E3G argued a net zero target would help bolster the UK's international competitiveness. "An ambitious, legally binding net-zero target would position the UK to lead and prosper from the global zero carbon energy revolution now unfolding," he said. "It would also give the world hope that we can forge an economic path that keeps our planet and our civilisation safe. It is time for all parties and all MPs to get behind this mission."
Elsewhere during this week's Business questions in parliament, Perry hailed the creation of 14,000 jobs in the offshore wind sector, insisted the government was continuing to discuss plans for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project with key stakeholders, and praised the fact the UK completed 77 hours of operation without coal generation last month.
She also rejected accusations from the DUP's Sammy Wilson that ending the UK's reliance on coal power would damage the economy by "pursuing means of expensive energy". "Does she really believe that erecting a few windmills will affect the world's climate, which is determined by the sun and by natural forces beyond the control of man?" Wilson asked.
"We could debate the science, but the truth is that we and 57 other countries, states and cities around the world have committed to phase out coal, because it is the most polluting fossil fuel," Perry replied. "We do not need it, because we have a big investment in renewables and we have clean gas as part of our energy mix, which we must maintain going forward."
It seems a government actively considering one of the world's first net zero emissions laws has little scope for tired climate sceptic tropes.
New report released at Clean Energy Ministerial confirms corporate demand for renewable power is accelerating fast
Energy giant says new target would see it cut the carbon intensity of its power by 75 per cent against 2006 levels
Steve Holliday reflects on the 10th anniversary of the UK's last generation-related power cut, and a decade in which the grid has coped admirably with an ever cleaner electricity mix
Environmental Audit Committee finds a majority of large pension funds are addressing climate change, but warns a number of funds are ignoring strategic risks