This strengthened and condensed version of the CEE Bill is designed to present a clearer proposal, be easier to understand, function as a more effective campaign tool and amend certain sections of the first Bill in response to feedback.
Under the new bill the government will be required to:
Calculate and plan to reduce the UK’s entire carbon footprint: At the moment the UK only accounts for its “territorial” emissions, ie those we emit locally, ignoring those included in the goods and services we buy in from abroad and our fair share of international aviation and shipping. Including these emissions provides a fairer “consumption” basis for our emissions but, being one of the world’s highest net importers of emissions, nearly doubles the emissions for which we are responsible.
In accordance with the stricter targets of the Paris Agreement, issued in 2018, increase the chance of the UK meeting its emissions targets using equitable policies: The UK’s current net zero target is based on a greater than 50% chance of limiting global heating to a 1.5°C rise in temperature. To be fair to future generations, this needs to increase to 66%. In consideration of the UK’s historic emissions and its capabilities as a developed nation it needs to account for a proportionately smaller share of the global carbon budget, reduce emissions at a faster rate than developing countries and provide support for them to do so.
Adhere to national carbon budgets set each year, not every five years.
Reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions primarily by stoppingemissions caused by human activity, whilst also ending the extraction, export and import of fossil fuels: Little discussed even 10 years ago, the UK and most developed countries are assuming that, in the decades ahead, technologies will be available to remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide from high emitting sources, such as power stations, or even to remove it directly from the air, and then safely store it underground. Reliance on such speculative and unproven at scale technologies not only fosters delay in dealing with emissions but also passes the problem to future generations. Consequently the bill requires the emphasis to be on actually reducing emissions, rather than removing them once they are made.
Follow a strict nature target to ensure that it reverses the decline in the state of nature no later than 2030: The state of nature is defined as the abundance and distribution of plant and animal species; risk of extinction; extent and condition of priority habitats; and health and enrichment of ecosystems.
Actively conserve and restore nature: Focussing both on biodiversity and soils’ protection, restoring natural carbon sinks, such as in the conservation of woodlands, and restoring peat bogs all of which act as a natural reservoir for carbon and to keep it out of the atmosphere;
Take responsibility for its entire ecological footprint: This means preventing adverse impacts on ecosystems and human health caused by consumption, trade and production, in the UK and internationally, including the extraction of raw materials, deforestation, land degradation, pollution and waste.
Create “Citizens Assemblies”: Being representative of the UK population, to work directly with the Climate Change Committee and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, before the strategies are laid before Parliament.
In the lead up to COP26 debates are intensifying over some key issues, some of which have rumbled on for over a decade, passing through and beyond COP21 in Paris more than five years ago.
Explored in part in our website post Know your Net Zero from your NETs and BECCS, there is growing tension between two groups. In one are those who promote the importance of doing all we can today to reduce emissions and decarbonise the economy, thus keeping us from exceeding carbon budgets. In the other are those who believe we can rely on current and future technologies to provide both cleaner and more efficient energy and remove, use or store carbon in the decades ahead.
At the heart of the latter approach is a belief that we can, and should, live our lives relatively unchanged, taking up new technology like electric cars and relying on the markets and technological innovation to provide sufficient clean energy and cope with other mitigation paths.
Those who follow the former approach, however, worry that with carbon budgets and related emission reduction pathways only giving us perhaps a 50:50 chance of keeping the temperature increase to 1.5℃, we should concentrate on reducing demand and consumption today and using technologies available today, which will not only accelerate emission reductions but will also give cleaner energy (such as wind and solar) a better chance of catching up with current demand and that from newly electrified areas such as transport. The changes in lifestyle necessary for this route are seen by some as unnecessary sacrifices and by others as common sense.
What clouds the issue is that many fossil fuel companies are promoting the technological route, raising the suspicion that they do so because it delays the inevitable demise of their industries and, in say the case of gas, prolongs its use for the production of hydrogen.
There are other related and intertwined considerations within these debates:
Equity – All official emission reduction pathways, from the Paris Agreement to the recent International Energy Agency report, call for fairness in tackling climate change. To recognise historic emissions this calls for developed countries – the “Global North” – to take a proportionately smaller cut of the remaining carbon budget than the poorer countries – the “Global South” – and also requires the Global North to reduce emissions faster than, and to provide support to, the Global South. It also extends to reducing the burden we place on future generations in mitigating climate change.
The few – Following the above, it’s been the case for many years that the richest 10% of the global population are responsible for perhaps 50% of global emissions and that if they reduced their emissions to say the level of the average European, global emissions would immediately drop by 30%, with everyone else doing nothing. This brings the national and global debate above to a personal level.
Triaging solutions – As technologies develop there will be several areas in which they can be used. For example, as Hydrogen production is developed there is a choice between its use in heating, transport, steel or even as energy storage, in place of batteries. Decisions will have to be made as to where the most benefit (environmental rather than economic) can be gained from its use. Similarly with biofuels,
Economic Growth – The same pathways also assume continued economic growth of typically 2-3% pa, perhaps doubling economies in the next thirty years. Whilst some countries, like the UK, have managed to achieve growth, whilst reducing emissions, this is partly as a result of a shift away from manufacturing to service industries thus, effectively, exporting their emissions to other countries. Globally therefore the graph of increasing emissions follows very closely the graph of economic growth and there remains little evidence that the two can be “decoupled” any time soon. Consequently many are now promoting ways to reduce or even reverse growth or to disregard it altogether in favour of more human and nature-based measures of Wellbeing.
Carbon financials – there are a plethora of money led incentives and penalties designed to decarbonise our economies, from carbon trading to taxation. One that is gaining favour is known as “Carbon Fee & Dividend” which imposes a tax at the point of production or import of fossil fuels which is then distributed to the population of the country consuming the fuel as a dividend on a per capita basis. The tax will add to the cost of the fuel in the consumer’s hand and so consumers who use the least will gain the most when they receive their share of the dividend and the highest users will suffer the most in a net cost.
Further reading and watching to get you in the mood:
Our latest newsletter is now ready, covering; last week’s Members’ Forum – how you can help us – the benefits of visiting the websites, the mysteries of the “Net” in Net Zero – Devon CC’s Waste Management consultation and the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy”.
The history of and debate over Net Zero: In 2015, nearly 200 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement committing “to limit the global temperature increase in this century to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.
Calculations were made of the maximum amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and equivalent gases, (collectively known as CO2e) that could still be emitted to have a chance of remaining within this temperature range and this “Carbon Budget” allocated fairly amongst signatories to decide how and when to restrict their own emissions.
Many scientists believe that reducing emissions to zero, as soon as possible, should be the prime target. However during negotiations in Paris, it was believed that this “Zero Carbon” policy would result in significant downturns in the economies of the richest countries and so, to reach consensus, countries were permitted to include methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In other words, with a carbon budget of 1 tonne, you can emit 1.2 tonne as long as you can find a way to remove 0.2 tonne.
So when our government legislated for “Net Zero by 2050” the UK could still be emitting say 100 Mt (million tonnes) of CO2e per annum in 2050 (mainly from agriculture and aviation) and so must plan to remove at least the same amount to get to Net Zero.
Many scientists consider the Net Zero (also known as Carbon Neutral) methodology to be false accounting in that by anticipating removals, especially after 2050, we risk exceeding carbon budgets before 2050, causing spikes in temperature and irreversible climate tipping points thus making the later removals irrelevant. There is also concern that by providing false hope over the ability to remove emissions in the future, less effort will be made to reduce emissions now. The conclusion of a study by Lancaster University in 2019 was that trying to synchronise both emission reductions and removals, over thirty years, into a single Net Zero target was unrealistic and that the two routes should be approached separately, aiming for the best achievable result in each.
The calculation of fair national shares of the global carbon budget has also generated disagreement in that richer nations, like the UK, will calculate their share without recognising significant historic emissions still present in the atmosphere, leaving unfair shares for poorer nations that still need to emit to grow their economies.
Removals: “Removals” is the generic term for removing emissions and this is also referred to as Carbon Dioxide Removals (CDR). There are many different ways in which removals can be achieved and they can be broadly categorised as either Nature-based or Engineered.
Nature has several ways to draw down carbon dioxide from the air and store it, either short or long term. The best known is in plant growth. Trees and other land or sea plants use photosynthesis to draw down CO2 from the air for growth and to pass some to the soil or seabed as carbon as they decay. The short term cycle involves the trees and plants dying and decaying, with a release of CO2 back into the atmosphere, whereas peatlands, for example, can remove and store carbon for indefinite periods and, in the past two hundred years, we have burned such long term carbon as coal, oil or gas.
The process of natural storage, in say the soil, is known as “sequestration” and where it is stored is known as a carbon “sink”.
The government and its advisors, The Climate Change Committee (CCC), are therefore anticipating extensive tree planting and peatland restoration in the next few decades with the CCC’s 2050 net zero plan forecasting an extra 39 Mt of CO2e per annum being sequestered by natural processes in 2050.
On paper and in trials, industry has started to explore engineered ways to remove CO2 and store it. This is known as “Carbon Capture & Storage” (CCS) and the various methods of doing it “Negative Emission Technologies” (NETs).
The main group of NETs are “Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage” (BECCS) which involve the creation of bio-energy from organic matter (biomass) and capturing/storing the resulting CO2, usually by pumping it into exhausted gas and oil wells. BECCS was the technology agreed outside the main Paris agreement as being the economically acceptable way to meet “Net Zero” targets.
There are several BECCS technologies however the main one involves burning wood for power. The UK’s Drax power complex provides about 6% of the country’s electricity and, moving away from coal and gas, currently burns about 20,000 tons of wood pellets a day, sourced mainly from North American forests. It has started trial CCS facilities onsite capturing about 400 tonnes of CO2 per annum with plans to eventually capture and store 16 Mt per annum.
The principle behind this is that, growing, burning and capturing the CO2 from trees provides greater carbon savings than just leaving them to grow, die and decay. There are however doubts over relying upon unproven technology, the availability of sustainable sources of wood, conflicts with land for food production and the fact it takes years for new tree plantings to grow for harvesting. It is also the case that not all of the CO2 from the transporting, processing and burning of the trees, can be captured.
On the plus side the capturing and storage process itself takes energy and so the exhaust heat from the power station can provide this.
The CCC’s 2050 Net Zero plan involves engineered removals of about 58 Mt of CO2e per annum by 2050, with the various forms of BECCS providing 53 Mt and the other 5 Mt coming to scale in perhaps twenty years in the form of “Direct Air Capture & Storage” (DACCS), in which CO2 is removed from the air and stored.
Offsetting: In simple terms offsetting is the practice in which, instead of reducing your own emissions, you pay someone else to reduce theirs. For example, you can still do this when you fly, by paying for tree planting to offset your emissions.
In the majority of cases offsetting has involved rich industries and individuals paying their poorer cousins but it has also been done on a national basis with one country investing in the NETs of another or, as indicated by the CCC, rather than struggling to reduce its own emissions, the UK might instead increase foreign aid to assist other nations to reduce theirs.
This practice may well have been an incentive in the past for industries and nations but the majority of countries have signed up to the Paris agreement and, with fair carbon budget allocations, each can look after their own, in other words it is fallacious to pay for someone to do something they were bound to do anyway and, in order to reduce emissions as fast as possible, the best approach, as set out in the Paris Agreement, is for the rich to reduce their own emissions and assist the poor to do the same.
ACT is planning its strategy over the next 6 months and could really do with some help. We are looking for a few extra people to help out for perhaps an hour or two a week with either committee or hands-on work.
You don’t have to be an expert in anything; what we need is your enthusiasm so, if you’d like to get involved, please fill in this questionnaire with some information about your interests and skills and we will get back to you.