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UK must cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050

The UK should reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 and stop its contribution to global warming, according to government advisers.

The Committee on Climate Change has urged ministers to set a new legal target for eliminating almost all greenhouse gas emissions – and offsetting the unavoidable pollution by planting trees or using other technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The 'net zero' target would mean wholesale changes to home heating, transport, and even people's diets.

But Chris Stark, the committee's chief executive, told Sky News that the transition was essential to prevent catastrophic warming of the planet.

"What we've recommended today doesn't involve any unicorn technologies," he said.

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"We've got a set of technology in this recommendation that we understand and know we can employ.

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"It doesn't involve big shifts in consumer behaviour, but does involve a big transition for the whole economy, and that's not just about employing new tech, but also about how we live our lives.

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"We'll have cleaner air, we'll lead healthier lives, but there is a shift required to achieve that."

The report from the Committee sets out a template for action.

It says the government should ban petrol and diesel cars as soon as 2030, 10 years earlier than the current plan.

And it recommends 25 million gas boilers are replaced with low carbon alternatives.

Russell Williams is taking part in a trial of future heating run by the Energy Systems Catapult.

He has smart sensors in every room connected to an app his phone that give him precise control over comfort and cost.

And his old boiler has been replaced by a hybrid system, with a heat pump extracting warmth from the outdoor air supplemented by a gas-fired booster.

He said: "Going over to a heat pump has made no difference to our costs at all. If anything it has reduced them.

"Our heat comfort is absolutely no different to how we have always had it and we are doing our bit for the planet by reducing our carbon footprint."

Removing fossil fuels from homes, industry and transport will mean a large increase in green electricity generation, particularly off-shore wind.

The UK has 7,000 miles of coastline from which it could generate offshore wind power
Image: The UK has 7,000 miles of coastline from which it could generate offshore wind power

Around 2,000 turbines surround our coast now, but another 6,000 could be built by 2050.

Benj Sykes, UK offshore wind manager for Orsted, said: "Already we're generating about 8% of our power from offshore wind.

"By 2030 we've agreed to bring that up to over a third of our electricity.

"We can continue to build this industry. We can get to over half our electricity coming from offshore wind.

"It is the backbone of the energy system, because it's affordable and we can do at scale."

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The Government already has a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from their 1990 levels.

But climate activists have strongly criticised ministers for cutting subsidies for buying electric cars and installing solar panels, and for plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.

John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK said: "The Committee on Climate Change has clearly thrown down the gauntlet to the government over delivering increased ambition.

"We might argue over the committee's 2050 date for a net zero carbon economy but what nobody can argue is that the government's business as usual, steady-as-she-goes approach will suffice.

"We need to radically change course, and the sooner the better for the economy, people, and the rest of nature."

Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year urged world leaders to limit global warming to no more than 1.5C or risk catastrophic effects to wildlife and human populations.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 would give a better than evens chance of hitting the temperature target.

The United Nations Secretary General has called world leaders to a Climate Action Summit in September at which nations will be expected to lay out their plans for meeting the challenge.

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