The path to net zero

The following is an abridged version of relevant sections from the ‘Introduction to climate change’ briefing given to assembly members. You can read the full briefing here and read more about what climate change is here.

What is ‘net zero’?

The temperature of the planet responds slowly to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The planet will only stop warming when we reach ‘net zero’ carbon dioxide emissions.

Achieving net-zero means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to a much lower level than today – and balancing the remaining emissions by reabsorbing the same amount from the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases can be absorbed by growing trees and plants, as well as through technological processes that can remove carbon dioxide from the air, but have not yet been used at large-scale.

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and emitting as little as possible on the way to ‘net-zero’ will also help minimise further changes in the climate.

What is Climate Assembly UK going to consider?

The scale of climate change risks has led to an international agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This is called the Paris Agreement. It aims to keep global warming to below 2°C above temperatures before the industrial revolution around 200 years ago – and to pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5°C.

At the moment, every country in the world has signed the Paris Agreement. However, the United States, under the direction of President Donald Trump, has signalled it intends to leave the Paris agreement later this year.

Countries around the world – including the UK – have also signed up to a national goal of ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions as part of our contribution to this global effort. In June 2019, the UK Government and Parliament agreed a law committing the UK to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The topic assembly members are going to discuss at Climate Assembly UK is what the UK should do to achieve this goal, and how it should do it.