The year 1997’s Kyoto Protocol is probably the most memorable example of a global push for environmental emissions reform in recent history. The historic proposal sets specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations in an effort to work toward a greener future for the entire planet.
Now we might be seeing the next historically relevant step forward in committing to a greener future with new legislation taking shape in British Parliament.
Instead of the previous goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80%, the new proposal would aim to deliver net zero greenhouse gas emissions in just 30 years. An ambitious goal, but is it a realistic one?
Leading the Environmental Charge
It’s appropriate that a country that has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 44% since 1990 should propose such a monumental step.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore cited his country’s historical involvement in emissions efforts, releasing the statement, “The UK kick-started the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for economic growth across the globe but also for increasing emissions…Today we’re leading the world yet again in becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 while remaining committed to growing the economy.”
Realizing the Impossible
It’s no secret that our global infrastructure relies heavily on fossil fuels — so much so that nations like China and the United States have been criticized for choosing not to participate in this type of global effort. Without major change, the consequences will be catastrophic, but trying to do too much too fast won’t work either. So can this plan succeed?
Britain’s Committee on Climate Change, the nation’s top advisory board for environmental efforts such as this one, believes it can. A plan would need to involve major changes to current infrastructure, including the deprecation of fuel-burning cars, with the only new models available being strictly electric by 2035. There would also need to be a fourfold increase in low-carbon electricity production.
However, all of these changes cost money. Electric cars and low-carbon emissions technologies still exact a premium on top of their old-fashioned counterparts. Millions of homes and commercial buildings might need to be replaced or updated to meet new low-emissions building standards. Many European cities have already banned the use of fossil-fuel cars in the city center as a way of promoting conversion to electric.
The budget forecast for such a major transition is set at between one and two percent of the UK’s GDP by 2050. More aggressive estimates plot the number at 1.3 trillion U.S. dollars. That’s a lot of green, but then what’s the right amount to budget when the fate of the world is at stake? Even if other nations are failing to act, it only increases the urgency.
At a time fraught with controversy around whether the UK will align with the old-fashioned U.S. policy of a Trump Administration seeking to protect interests in coal and fossil fuels, it’s a bright spot for environmental activists to see a major world power endorse such sweeping change. For Prime Minister Theresa May, a success here could shore up a legacy of accomplishing next to nothing during her three years in office. However, the law still needs to receive the blessing of the House of Lords, as it has only been approved by the lower-level house of Commons at this point.
With the frightening outlook climate scientists have, it’s timely for the UK to make such a spirited proposal. If it passes, it could set a new standard for the world, with a world power endorsing it. Now the challenge is to the House of Lords. The world is watching — what will the decision be?
Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes
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