Bloomberg reports officials are working on net zero target, but as EU plans for a similar goal face opposition it remains unclear if whole cabinet is ready to back new target
The UK government is preparing to announce that it will broadly embrace the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change and introduce a new target to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, according to reports from news agency Bloomberg.
Citing officials familiar with the plan, the agency reported the new target is likely to be announced within two months.
Such a fast tracked timetable could potentially allow for amendments to the Climate Change Act to be passed before Parliament's summer recess, especially given the limited nature of the government's legislative agenda in the wake of the delay to Brexit.
Since the CCC's wide-ranging report was released last week, leading Ministers have repeatedly hinted they want to see the government adopt the target as quickly as possible and ensure the UK becomes the first major economy to embrace a legally-binding net zero emissions goal.
A cross-party group of MPs, leading business groups, and environmental campaigners have also called on the government to introduce a new target as soon as possible.
In a speech last week, Business Secretary Greg Clark said his ambition was for the UK to be "the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely".
France is also currently working on net zero legislation and a number of other countries are keen to strengthen their long term emissions goals ahead of high profile UN climate summit in New York in September, meaning the UK is in a race to secure the title of the first G7 economy to place a net zero target in legislation.
However, Bloomberg's sources acknowledged the plans were yet to be finalised, and while Chancellor Philip Hammond is understood to be supportive of a new target it remains unclear whether Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will back the plan.
Grayling has resisted calls to bring forward a planned phase out date for the sale of internal combustion engine cars and vans from 2040 to 2030 and has angered environmentalists with his support for Heathrow expansion and the scrapping of rail electrification plans.
The CCC report argued that meeting a 2050 net zero target was technically and economically feasible and could be delivered at a cost of just one to two per cent of GDP in 2050 - the same cost that was deemed acceptable a decade ago when the Climate Change Act set a target to cut emissions 80 per cent by 2050.
The government's advisors also noted that its economic modelling did not include co-benefits that would result from decarbonisation, such as improved health, reduced air pollution, and curbed climate risks. As such, many observers predicted a transition to a net zero emission economy would deliver net benefits to the economy in the long run. A host of leading business groups have accepted the CCC's analysis and last week stepped up calls for the government to adopt a net zero target and supporting policies.
However, elements of the CCC's recommendations - such as long term plans to end reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooking and transform land use across much of the country - are likely to prove highly controversial and it remains to be seen if the whole Cabinet will sign off on the plan. There are also concerns that whoever succeeds Theresa May as Prime Minister could delay or block plans for a net zero target and strategy, although a number of prospective leadership candidates have signalled they back the proposed goal.
In addition, any move to adopt a net zero emission target would lead to increased pressure on the government to introduce new policies and programmes as soon as possible to accelerate the rate of decarbonisation through the 2020s and ensure the UK meets medium term emissions targets that it is currently on track to miss.
However, despite the potential obstacles steps are underway to ensure the Climate Change Act can be amended to introduce the new target. Bloomberg also reported that officials have been instructed to consider the implications of a net zero emission target for an upcoming energy whitepaper that is slated for a July release.
In related news, a similar debate continued to play out at an EU level this week, with France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden again leading calls for the bloc to embrace a net zero target for 2050.
Ahead of the opening of yesterday's EU summit in Sibiu, Romania the group of eight countries prepared a 'non-paper' - subsequently leaked to news agency Euractiv - that called on other member states to back a European Commission plan that would see the bloc commit to net zero emissions by 2050 "at the latest".
The group also called for the EU to up its existing emissions targets for 2030 ahead of the UN Summit in September and increase public spending on low carbon infrastructure and climate-related projects.
However, Germany, Poland, and Italy were notably absent from the list of signatories to the 'non-paper' suggesting that divisions over whether the EU should strengthen its climate targets remain.
Germany and a number of Eastern European states have pushed back against the Commission's plan in recent months and fears are growing that they could block the adoption of a formal net zero target, over concerns about the potential impact on heavy industries and manufacturers.
The news comes as think tank Carbon Market Watch this week published a progress report, warning that a number of EU states have made negligible progress towards meeting their 2030 carbon targets. It argued in some countries there has been a "a serious lack of commitment on behalf of governments". Italy, Hungary, Poland and Romania were singled out for particular criticism.
Meanwhile, trade body WindEurope today warned that a "collapse" in the growth of new onshore wind energy projects in Germany was putting the entire EU's renewables targets at risk.
Germany installed just 134 MW of new onshore wind farms in the first quarter of 2019, the group said, marking the country's worst first quarter for onshore installations since 2000.
"Germany is likely to install a total of just 1-2 GW of onshore wind this year," WindEurope said. "This is significantly down on the past five years when Germany installed an average of 4.3GW per year. This is well below what Germany needs to meet its own 65 per cent renewable electricity target by 2030 and to deliver its share of the EU's 32 per cent renewable energy target. Offshore wind will not fill the gap: Germany is due to build just 730MW per year up to 2030."
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