Net zero: Britain must plant billions of trees

Into the woods: In old age, the great British artist David Hockney has become obsessed with trees.

The UK should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gasses to nearly zero by 2050, says a powerful independent committee this morning. How realistic is this?

Turn the heating down to 19C. Ditch the old gas boiler. Cut back on meat. Avoid air travel and get out and walk more.

Today, Britain is setting out plans to become a world leader in fighting climate change, with a landmark report that seeks to cut the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the next 30 years.

The recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) — something no other big economy has yet signed up to — are expected to be largely adopted by the Government.

“This report would have been inconceivable a few years ago. People would have laughed us out of court for suggesting that the target could be so high,” says its main author Chris Stark.

But it is has become possible now because of the shift in the public mood following recent appeals by David Attenborough, street protests by Extinction Rebellion and speeches by campaigner Greta Thunberg — a shift marked last night when MPs officially approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was a huge step forward.

How will the CCC report change our day-to-day experience?

Trees: Many of us will live near forests. Among the most eye-catching proposal is the recommendation that 30,000 hectares of trees should be planted each year. That means about 2.7 billion trees being planted by 2050, or 90 million a year, with a fifth of farmland being turned into forest and 200,000 miles of hedges grown.

Homes: By 2050, natural gas heating will be long gone. The CCC says no new home should be connected to the gas grid after 2025. Electrified heating will be more common, but hydrogen could be an alternative to natural gas. We need better insulation so that we can turn down our home thermostats to 19C in winter. And we should set the water temperature in our heating systems to no higher than 55C. We will be using LED light bulbs and energy-efficient electric appliances.

Flying: Air travel is likely to become more expensive while the aviation industry tries to make alternative fuels from waste materials.

Cars: Many of us will walk, cycle or take public transport instead of a driving a car. We will all be driving electric cars by 2050. After 2040, conventional car sales will be banned.

Meat: We will all be consuming far less beef, lamb and dairy — it needs to fall by a fifth by 2050.

Waste: We have to stop wasting food entirely. After 2025, biodegradable waste will not be sent to landfill. This means we would all have to separate our food waste from other rubbish.

Shopping: We will choose good quality products that last longer and share — not buy — items, like power tools, that we use infrequently.

Saving: We will all be checking that our deposits, pension funds and ISAs are invested in funds that support low-carbon industries.

Really?

Is the CCC right when it forecasts that about 38% of the change can be achieved through low-carbon technologies, 9% will depend on behavioural changes alone, and 53% will depend on a combination of both? Will people really be prepared to set their winter time thermostat to 19°C? Asking people to put up with less comfort is going to be difficult. When people are told to stop doing what they’ve always done, doesn’t history suggest that they dig their heels in? As President Macron discovered when trying to push through a green fuel tax, the tide can turn against you fast.

You Decide

  1. Would you mind if your house was a bit colder?
  2. Which of the report’s recommendations is most controversial?

Activities

  1. Make a poster urging people to change one thing about their lives.
  2. Imagine you are now in 2050. Write a one-page letter to yourself, describing what the world is like as a result of actions taken — or not taken — in 2019.

Some People Say...

“We will get there because I believe that children will persuade their parents.”

David Aaronovitch

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
If we focus on the likelihood of getting these recommendations done, we do know that the political dial is moving. In a matter of weeks over Easter, political leaders of all parties have come out in favour of declaring a climate emergency. They have spoken publicly and declared their positions. This we know.
What do we not know?
The main unknown is what happens when the changes start to hurt? Will people really agree to change the way they live, even if it means giving up on comfort and convenience? The evidence on this is not very good. And, of course, as soon as there is a sizeable proportion of the population that is not happy, it represents an opportunity for political leaders to win support by changing their tune.

Word Watch

Committee on Climate Change
It is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK Government on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preparing for climate change.
Climate emergency
Dozens of local areas around the UK have already declared a climate emergency — but what does that mean? There’s no single definition, but many local areas say they want to be carbon-neutral by 2030.