In an interview with Ethical Corporation editor Terry Slavin, Mike Thompson of the Climate Change Committee emphasised the need for strong government policies to match the ambition of its climate plan

The Climate Change Committee recently issued a damning report to parliament that the UK is far off track for meeting its existing target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, never mind the net-zero by mid-century target that former prime minister Theresa May announced a month ago. 

The announcement from Downing Street came on 12 June, just before Mike Thompson, head of carbon budgets at the Climate Change Committee, gave a keynote address at Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit Europe in which he congratulated the government on its ambition but warned that “30 years is not a long time for this sort of transformation. It’s hard and we need to get on with it now.”  

And that means that the government has to quickly follow up with joined-up policy across all departments and levels of government. 

Thompson emphasised the importance of hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, reducing emissions in the agricultural sector, and “growing a lot of trees” as key priorities. And while international offsetting may be acceptable “in the margins”, he was clear that government should be aiming for all its emissions reductions too happen within the UK’s borders.  

The message to business was also clear, he said: “If you don’t have a plan for your business to fit in with a net-zero world, you don’t have a serious plan for the future.” 

While Phil Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made well-publicised comments last month ahead of the net-zero announcement saying more ambitious climate plans could cost the UK economy £1trn, Thompson said there would be economic and social “co-benefits”, as yet unquantified, including lower cost to the NHS from reduced pollution in cities, and greater well-being.  

And the potential benefits to UK businesses that lead in the low-carbon economy had also not been quantified. He said the clarity of the government’s net-zero goal, as opposed to the previous 80% reduction target, “has the potential to really push innovation not only in technology, but in business models, in services models and in consumer engagement.” 

In an interview after his presentation, Thompson spoke at greater length about the innovation challenge that faces the UK in reaching net zero. He said hydrogen will have to be developed for use by heavy duty transport, power plants and heating homes, the necessity of developing CCS, particularly in conjunction with biomass in power plants, and why the government’s 2040 target for ending the sale off fossil-fuel vehicles should be brought forward to 2035, and ideally 2030. 

He also spoke about the UK’s leadership in setting up and driving the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and how putting a high price on carbon in a UK-only carbon trading system post-Brexit will be critical to the government achieving its net-zero target. 

Asked whether leaving the EU would make it more difficult for the UK to meet its targets, he said: “You can get to net zero inside or outside the EU, but you need the right policies in place to do it.” 

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking on the audio file.

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