Is net zero carbon legislation genuinely on the horizon?

Consensus is growing; business carbon targets may need to rise.

As the Guardian reports, 50 Conservative MPs have called on Theresa May to adopt an ambitious target of cutting carbon emissions to net zero before 2050, to show international leadership on climate change and protect British jobs.

The UK is already committed to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. But the government recently asked its climate advisers to consider whether a deeper cut is needed in the light of a landmark UN report on the risks posed by global warming.

The aspiration represents a massive challenge. Meeting a goal of net zero emissions before 2050 would require far-reaching changes beyond those already under way in energy, buildings and transport. And alterations might well be seen to business carbon reporting schemes, to help drive the change through.

Is zero carbon really coming?

WWF emissions modelling suggests it is possible for the UK stop its contribution to climate change by 2045. But urgent action and a greater ambition are needed to achieve this.

‘The UK can achieve “net zero” emissions by 2045 if it cuts emissions from power, transport and buildings deeper and faster,’ writes the WWF. It also argues collaboration on research and development of new technologies would be vital; and an opportunity for the UK to gain economic advantage from leading the way on clean growth.

According to Business Green, ten major firms including Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anglian Water, IAG, Danone, ScottishPower, Interface, SSE, Signify, and Thames Water are also supporting the call for net zero.

Most crucially, The Committee on Climate Change has been instructed by the government to assess how the UK could achieve a net zero emission economy in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and is expected to report back before the end of April next year.

What might happen?

Right now, it’s impossible to judge whether new law is coming to the UK. But we can imagine what might happen if it did.

We would likely see tighter focus on what businesses have to do; perhaps in terms of regulation, targets, and more ambitious cuts.

This might translate into more carbon reporting, currently covered by schemes such as SECR and ESOS, or perhaps new elements within either or both schemes to implement actual energy efficiency projects.

Bear in mind this is all supposition. But whilst there would be a vast amount of work to hand, there would also be long term increased competitiveness, energy efficiency leadership, lower energy bills, lower emissions and massively improved business reputations for the UK as a whole.

The long road to carbon clarity

Other impacts might include new partnerships and alliances. Energy Live News is reporting that a new task group will develop an industry led definition for net zero carbon buildings, launched by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC).

The task group will examine what net zero carbon would mean for new buildings, with the aim of building industry consensus on a definition for net zero carbon buildings which can be used to inform project designs, planning requirements and building regulations.

Whatever decision on net zero comes from The Committee on Climate Change, another telling indication has been fired on the UK’s direction towards low carbon; the faster the better.

It seems unlikely anything can derail this progress. The signal to businesses already affected by energy efficiency legislation is plain; the low carbon revolution is real.