UK faces 'most disruptive decade' as it ramps up race to net zero

Climate change leader Nigel Topping confirms Cop26 will go ahead and be vital for emissions drive

A climate change leader said the UK was facing one of its most disruptive decades, with every sector set to undergo radical change to meet strict climate emission targets.

Nigel Topping, Britain’s high-level climate action champion, said that because the government set out its green targets for the path to net zero, “that means that we can plan a transition".

Mr Topping told delegates attending the virtual Climate Innovation Forum that "messy transitions" were rarely fair but a planned transition has a chance to be because of wider engagement from "all key stakeholders, the communities that are relying on those industries for jobs, the regulators who are regulating the pace of the transition, and the businesses that are relying on those jobs".

Mr Topping said the decision to phase out combustion engines in the UK by 2030 offered individuals and businesses certainty that the targets must be made by a set date, with the government able to put in place regulations to support those goals.

“The key thing for me is that the clarity of long-term policies is a prerequisite to have any chance of a just transition,” he said.

“We have a real chance of making a just transition here because we know that it's inevitable we get to zero and we can put in place those decadal benchmarks which give us real clarity, and allows us to plan the transition.”

In the year of the UK’s twin presidency of the G7 and the Cop26 environment summit, Britain has set the world’s most ambitious climate change target: to reduce emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, by 78 per cent by 2035, and to be net zero by 2050.

This falls in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C.

On Tuesday, Britain said it would bring forward its target to end the use of coal in electricity generation by a year to October 2024, as it looks to encourage other nations to cut emissions more quickly.

Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry, said bringing forward the coal phase-out date demonstrates the UK is leading by example.

“The move from coal to renewable generation has been made possible by having clear ambition and policies in place to transition at pace and scale,” she said on Wednesday.

“To continue demonstrating UK leadership in phasing-out fossil fuels ahead of Cop26, we now need long-term strategy and swift policy action that will provide the certainty that businesses need to invest.”

Mr Topping confirmed Cop26 would go ahead despite escalating coronavirus cases in the UK, with the UN already opening the registration process and vaccines set to be “delivered to approved delegates, whether from countries or civil society, as promised by the UN and the G7”.

He praised Britain’s city mayors for leading the way on climate change.

“Cities have always been centres of innovation and ambition,” he said.

“The biggest cities in the world have been pushing for net zero since Paris. The rest of society is catching up, such as business investors and national governments.

"We see growing momentum and really good collaboration but we do need some more national governments putting in place the urban policies which unleash the power of cities to innovate ahead of the curve and help us get to net zero in the 2040s.”

Since the UN launched the Race to Zero more than a year ago, more than 700 cities around the world have committed, with many of them planning to reach net zero before 2050.

However, Mr Topping said thousands more businesses, investors and cities who have not yet committed should do so.

“If you haven't joined the race to zero yet, you need to because you won't be re-elected as a mayor if you're not in it. Your shareholders might not relate to you as a CEO if you're not in it, you won't be elected as an MP if you're not committed to it, because our citizens know that we have to make this transition,” he said.

The Cop26 summit, he said, would provide the ideal opportunity for Britain to lead the charge in persuading other countries to cut emissions.

"Hopefully, Glasgow will really land the evidence that the real economy, driven by that collaboration between mayors and CEOs and policymakers, is picking up pace towards halving emissions by 2030."

Updated: October 7th 2021, 12:03 PM