The government will need to approach its 2050 zero emissions target ‘like the US in the international space race’, according to environmental lawyers ClientEarth.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK will eradicate its ‘net contribution’ to climate change in 30 years, making it the first G7 country to legislate in this way. She said: “Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children. This country led the world in innovation during the Industrial Revolution, and now we must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.”
ClientEarth, which has taken the government to court three times over breaches in EU legal air pollution limits, has likened the situation to 1962, when JFK made his famous declaration that the USA would reach the moon in the same decade.
ClientEarth climate lawyer Jonathan Church said: “What makes that speech so momentous today is that the US then backed those words with effort and action to realise their goal.
With today’s net zero laws, all levels of government, business and society now have a legal framework and a declaration of ambition showing that the UK intends to lead the world on climate action.
“We now need that concerted effort to make this declaration a reality, answering those detractors who complain about the cost, just like the American administration did in ’69.”
However, the government's proposal does contains the caveat that it can re-examine the commitment in five years to confirm that other countries are following suit. The aviation industry may also be exempt from the target.
This has drawn ire from some environmentalists such as British Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who has said the ‘get-out clause’ creates uncertainty for business and effects green investment.
CIEH director for Northern Ireland and climate change lead Gary McFarlane said: “We do need that kind of vision – working towards a zero carbon society at the latest by 2050. But we can’t achieve that by absconding our responsibilities elsewhere.”
Norway has committed to going carbon neutral by 2030, and Finland by 2035.