In December 2020, as Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson were scrambling to squaring the circle of Brexit in time for the new year, the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) presented its Sixth Carbon Budget Report (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/sixth-carbon-budget/). The CCC is the UK government’s main, independent advisory body on how the country should tackle climate change.
The committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget report is an impressive thousand-page document containing the world’s first detailed roadmap to decarbonize a nation, with sub-reports for every important sector of the economy.
The report proposes a 68% reduction of emissions by 2030 compared to 1990, and on December 4 even before the report was published, the UK Prime Minister announced that exactly that is to be the new target for the country. Boris Johnson at the same time committed the country to the reduce emissions at the fastest rate of any major country. Meanwhile, the EU announced a week later its new target of 55% reductions.
Is the UK the new leader in climate politics?
Picture from giroditalia.it
In the report, which has received little attention outside the UK, there is an attempt to put a price on limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. The conclusion is probably one of the most over-looked insights relating to the transformation and decarbonization of our societies: it is virtually for free!
Yes, investments have to increase significantly, around 12.5% annually, primarily in low-carbon power, retrofit of buildings, batteries and infrastructure for electric vehicles. But look at the upside. Already by 2040 will the savings in operational expenditure in the economy off-set the annual additional need for capital expenditure. In total, it is estimated that the net additional cost each year to deliver the same services with lower emissions is less than 1% of GDP through to 2050. And beyond 2050, the operational cost savings keep on contributing to narrowing that gap. The report even estimates that the 1% cost will not necessarily reduce GDP by the same amount; GDP could even become higher thanks to a combination of spare capacity in the economydue to Covid-19 and a redirection of resources from fossil fuel imports to national investments.
Investing in climate mitigation today will drive significant savings tomorrow. Picture from The Sixth Carbon Budget – The UK’s path to Net Zero, page 21.
It is instructive to put these figures in contrast with the cost of the Covid pandemic in 2020, estimated to be around eight percent by several accounts. Not to speak about the cost of absence of action.
In line with the IPCC Special Report SR15 from 2018, the CCC foresees that UK will need to deploy bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to reach its targets. The CCC foresees that BECCS is included at 45-95 MtCO2/year by 2050 in all scenarios in the report. Direct air capture (DACCS) is estimated to be included at 0-15 MtCO2/year. As a comparison, the current estimate by the Swedish government is that Sweden will need 3-10 MtCO2/year of BECCS by 2045.
2021 is likely to be the year when the politics of the climate crisis enters a new phase of sobriety, culminating in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on November 1-12. Aptly, UK seems to have taken on the Maglia Rosa.