The UK government has committed itself to cutting Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. It’s an eye-catching ambition, but is it realistic? Do the government’s plans go too far, or not far enough? And what would be the consequences of meeting such a target?
To discuss these issues, Prospect brought together two experts from different fields—Professor Joseph Alcamo, Director of the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme at the University of Sussex, and Matt Gorman, the Sustainability and Environment Director at Heathrow, sponsors of the event.
“The science is clear: that we need to get to net zero to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” said Matt Gorman. “That’s true for every industrial sector.”
“The acceleration of the debate in recent years has been quite marked,” he said. “We’ve seen updated science from the IPCC and alongside, you’ve seen a significant mobilisation of particularly young people.”
“Aviation is classified as one of the ‘harder to abate’ sectors,” he noted, “along with things like steel and cement where there are technological alternatives, but they might take time.”
“We are optimistic about what we can achieve in our sector and how some of our licence to grow may end up funding those clean innovations and carbon capture technologies.” Other innovations that the aviation sector might deploy include a greater use of sustainable fuels and also hybrid and electric aircraft motors, which could become commercially viable within a decade.
“This demonstrates a point of view that we are going to have to get away from,” said Joseph Alcamo in response. “That somehow we can maintain everything we have and keep doing things the way we are doing them.”
“Technology has certain limits,” he said, “and when we talk about ‘net zero’, we are not talking about end-of-pipe corrective measures. We are talking about transformation.”
“Transport now accounts for about a third of the UK’s emissions,” he noted. “I don’t think we can maintain getting around the way we are now getting around.”
“In cities we are going to have to leave our cars behind,” he said. The changes to the way that people behave and travel will in part be a function of urban planning. So for example if businesses are located near residential areas, workers will need to travel less. This is the sort…