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EXPERT REACTION: Departing PM Theresa May commits UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
British Prime Minister Theresa May has committed the UK to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the first major economy in the world to do so. The commitment has been made in an amendment to the Climate Change Act as a statutory instrument, meaning it will not be voted on by MPs. The commitment allows the UK to use  international carbon credits to achieve this goal, which means the country can pay for cuts elsewhere in the world to make up for emissions being produced at home. International carbon credits have been criticised for shifting the burden of decarbonisation to the developing world, and the government went against the advice of its own Committee on Climate Change in allowing the credits to be used.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre, The University of New South Wales

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Associate Professor Frank Jotzo is Director of the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy at the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy

Net zero emissions is what is ultimately needed to stabilise the climate. Putting this goal in UK legislation is a strong signal. Australia will need to work out where our journey with national emissions will go. The Paris Agreement asks all countries to table a long-term low-emissions strategy, and it is time for Australia to produce one. We need to understand our options to get towards zero net emissions in the longer term, and the opportunities for Australia to benefit economically from a global low-carbon shift. We need to develop a shared understanding between governments, industry and civil society about how our economy will get towards zero net emissions, in a way that grows the economy and is beneficial socially.

Last updated: 12 Jun 2019 3:51pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Will Steffen is a Councillor at the Climate Council of Australia

Adopting a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050 by the UK is a major step forward in meeting the climate change challenge. It clearly and emphatically shows that a country that is deeply divided on other issues can come together and build a unified stand on the most important issue facing humanity this century. Hopefully other countries that have treated climate change as a political football, such as Australia, can learn from this important example.

Last updated: 12 Jun 2019 3:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Associate Professor Pete Strutton from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science

The UK goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is entirely consistent with the scientific consensus. It is the goal to which the global economy must aspire if we have a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C by 2100. A 2017 study* laid out the path to net zero emissions by 2050. It requires that gross emissions peak no later than next year and approximately halve every decade after that. There are many more studies explaining how we can achieve this, and this announcement from the UK is beginning to demonstrate the political will to make significant changes. It is sobering to consider that this is being pursued by the UK, whose total emissions are less than Australia’s, and per capita emissions about one third of ours.

* Rockström, J., Gaffney, O., Rogelj, J., Meinshausen, M., Nakicenovic, N. and Schellnhuber, H.J., 2017. A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science 355(6331), 1269-1271. [doi: 10.1126/science.aah3443]

Last updated: 12 Jun 2019 2:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
John Church is a Professor in the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

It's great to see the UK leading the way in efforts to turn around climate change and lessen the impacts that are increasingly being felt around the world.  This will be a growing trend in many nations that will result in a rapid phase out of fossil fuels, particularly coal.  Australia has a much greater potential for renewable energy than the UK.  Australia needs to grasp the social, environmental and economic opportunities that will flow with the transition to renewables or be left behind with a dependence on declining fossil fuel mining

Last updated: 12 Jun 2019 2:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at UNSW Canberra

The UK is leading the way with their next zero carbon emissions target for 2050. Meanwhile in Australia, last week’s release of the December 2018 quarter emissions data shows a rising trend. Last year’s IPCC report on the impacts of 1.5°C of global warming made it clear that deep emissions cuts are needed to ensure we maintain a safe climate. Australia should be following this lead and step up to do our part globally. Instead, we have no effective policies to limit our contributions to climate change.

Last updated: 12 Jun 2019 11:29am
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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