Understanding Net Zero
The term 'Net Zero' means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted in to the atmosphere, and the carbon that is removed from it. Net Zero being the balance left when one is removed from the other.
For the UK to reach Net Zero, the emissions from homes, industry, agriculture and transport will need to be cut. Basically, these sectors have got to reduce the amount of carbon they put into the atmosphere. However, in some areas, such as aviation it is going to be complex and/or expensive to cut emissions altogether.
This means that these 'residual' emissions will need to be removed from the atmosphere, either by changing how we use the land so it can absorb more carbon dioxide, or by the use of 'carbon capture' technologies.
Why was 2050 set as a date?
If we are to reach this target by this date, then we need to make considerable changes before then, ideally before 2030. If the UK can get other countries to follow our lead and reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, the committee on Climate Change advise that there would be a 50% change of avoiding a catastrophic 1.5c temperature rise by the end of 2100.
2050 is seen as a realistic date for Net Zero to be achieved, whilst trying to balance the need to take action with the impact on the economy it is bound to have.
Different parts of the UK have different dates for their carbon targets. Wales was aligned with the UK target of 2050 whilst Scotland has committed to 2045. Northern Ireland has been advised by the Committee on Climate change to cut their carbon emissions by at least 82% by 2050. This is taking into account that the country's agricultural emissions would likely prevent it from reaching Net Zero in the next 30 years.
Is Net Zero Possible?
It is a very bold and ambitious target that is going to require significant changes within the next 10 years if the UK is going to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to Net Zero by the middle of the century. UK emissions have already reduced from 1990 levels, but we need to change the way we use energy in our lives and there is still a long way to go. (Energy Savings Trust)