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The Sixth Carbon Budget – a ‘decisive decade of action’ awaits

09 December 2020

The latest advice from the Committee on Climate Change underlines both the enormous challenges and opportunities that come with meeting the 2050 net-zero emissions target.

The Sixth Carbon Budget – a ‘decisive decade of action’ awaits
The CCC has today issued its formal advice to government on reducing carbon emissions. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has today issued its formal advice to government on reducing carbon emissions during the Sixth Carbon Budget, covering the period 2033-37.

The Carbon Budgets themselves are an integral part of the Climate Change Act, ensuring that strong progress is made towards achieving the 2050 emissions reduction target.

The CCC’s most recent advice is significant as this is the first Carbon Budget since the net-zero emissions target was enshrined in law. It’s clear that net zero has been a game-changer – the previous target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 has been brought forward nearly 15 years to 2035.

A Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan

ICE’s State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target shone a light on the policy challenges for putting infrastructure on a net-zero footing.

While the UK has an ambitious target, it does not have a comprehensive plan for how it will be achieved – especially in relation to infrastructure.

We need a clear Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan which takes decisions on the policy trade-offs needed to achieve infrastructure that industry can follow. This can make decisions – using the CCC’s advice – on the future energy mix, pathways to decarbonising transport and heat, and options for reducing emissions from harder-to-abate sectors.

How much will it cost?

The CCC has calculated that the costs of reaching net-zero are cheaper than previously thought – less than 1% of GDP over the next 30 years. This is mainly due to low carbon infrastructure and technology having lower operational costs and being less resource-intensive than fossil-fuel equivalents.

There are also wider, less quantifiable benefits that come with a reduction in emissions, including better health and an improved natural environment.

However, meeting the emissions targets will still require up to £50 billion of low carbon investment each year to deliver net-zero. The recently announced infrastructure bank will help lower the cost of low carbon infrastructure needed to scale up decarbonisation, while the growth of low-carbon industries will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The good news here is that the UK is strongly placed to attract the investment required to decarbonise its energy, transport and buildings, and has well-established regulatory, policy and financing mechanisms that help provide investors with long-term certainty.

To support this, we need an Infrastructure Skills Plan, set out as part of the Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan, to ensure the UK has the capability to transition to net-zero.

Now is the time for action

The CCC’s message is quite clear – time is running out and the next decade must be one of action and progress.

The vital infrastructure systems on which the UK is built – such as energy, transport and utilities – currently contribute to the majority of the UK’s emissions, with transport and energy alone accounting for 60% of the UK’s CO2 emissions.

Given the urgency of the climate emergency and the long lead times and life cycles of infrastructure, the challenge of transitioning these systems over the next 30 years is immense.

Policy certainty, strong frameworks and a major investment programme across the country are required to deliver this change. The evidence shows that the changes required are feasible and affordable, but only if led by ambitious and swift action from government, supported by industry.

Read ICE Director Chris Richard’s response to today's Sixth Carbon Budget below on ICE's Twitter.

Get involved

Read ICE’s State of the Nation report into infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE