Two of the world’s largest economies, Japan and the United Kingdom, have announced that they are aiming for carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, as momentum gathers towards a wider commitment towards achieving net zero carbon emissions among major economies.
Japan is hosting this year’s meeting of the G20 group of nations, and its commitment has raised hopes that others will follow suit. France is pushing for the European Union to declare a similar goal ahead of a major UN climate summit in September.
Global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise, despite rhetorical commitments by governments to reduce them. Currently, the combined carbon emission reductions proposed under nations’ Paris Agreement pledges are not sufficient to prevent global heating of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, a threshold at which climate change is likely to have severe consequences.
In the UK, the outgoing prime minister Theresa May laid legislation before parliament last week enshrining the net zero target in law.
“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth,” May said. “Standing by is not an option. Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations.”
In May, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, an independent body established by the government, said that carbon neutrality by 2050 was achievable, if the country can shift to all-electric vehicles by 2035 and encourage the retrofitting of buildings for energy efficiency.
Professor Phil Longhurst, head of the Centre for Climate and Environmental Protection at Cranfield University, said: “This is an important and achievable target but what we now need is a plan as to how meet this, otherwise there is a danger that the target will be missed. Which technologies are going to be invested in, which behaviours are we going to try and change and what innovations are we going to back?
“What is striking about this announcement is the attitude from business to it. In the past, we might have seen business baulk at such ambitions but instead, there is a general acceptance that this change is both essential and inevitable.”