Net zero emissions target is possible if UK targets innovation

11 March 2020 by Grace Coleman
blog author

​The UK can reach its net zero emissions target by 2050 if it focusses on three key areas, a new report has revealed.

Energy Systems Catapult, a non-profit organisation which works to accelerate the transformation of the UK’s energy system, has released its Innovating to Net Zero report. It flagged up low carbon technology, land use and lifestyle as the three essential areas for innovation and scale-up support.

The UK needs to take various steps to achieve its target, including cutting down on meat consumption, planting a forest up to twice the size of Birmingham every year (or a third the size of Greater London) and reducing the number of flights.

Energy Systems Catapult released an update of its Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) tool, the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model, to take account of net zero targets and identify cost-optimised decarbonisation pathways across the whole system.

Results showed that outstanding innovation is required across the economy in order to succeed, such as discovering other methods of deploying existing technologies, new business models, new consumer offerings, as well as new policy, regulation and market design.

ESME has been used by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), industry, academia and the UK Government.

Scott Milne, Energy Systems Catapult insight and evidence lead said: “Last year the UK became the first major economy in the world to commit to a ‘net zero’ emissions target by 2050.

“Now for the first time, we’ve modelled hundreds of potential pathways to get to net zero by 2050, ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the different combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation options to reach the most cost-optimised approaches.

“Broadly each potential pathway uses a combination of two different approaches: a top-down technology focused approach or a bottom-up behaviour focused approach.

“However, what stands out is – no matter which pathway the UK takes – innovation, investment and incentives across low carbon technology, land use and lifestyle is essential to achieve net zero.

“And there are massive economic opportunities for the UK to lead the world in these areas.”

To reach net zero, the UK will need to increase carbon capture and storage with bioenergy and offset lifestyle emissions from air travel and livestock. In addition, livestock production for dairy and meat may need to be reduced by up to 50 per cent, depending on the success of low carbon deployment.

The report also found that reaching net zero before its 2050 deadline is unlikely without highly speculative changes to lifestyle, land use and low carbon technologies – such as banning aviation and meat production.