The public demand for action on climate change is clear. Climate strikes and protests throughout the year, culminating in a global day of action that preceded Greta Thunberg’s appearance at the UN Climate Action Summit are making this an issue global leaders cannot ignore. This level of public concern should come as no surprise given the weight of scientific evidence coupled with the real-world impacts of a changing climate that are becoming common place around the world.

But this is not just a problem for governments to solve alone. The business community is acutely aware of its role in delivering the switch to cleaner energy and low-carbon solutions for our transport, heating and industrial activity. But government does have an important role to play in setting targets and creating the environment for businesses to invest and consumers to change behaviours and adopt new technologies.

In June, after compelling evidence from the Committee on Climate Change, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, reformed legislation of the UK’s Climate Change Act to upgrade our emissions reduction targets from 80% to net-zero by 2050. The new target was backed by the CBI and the business community. Net-zero demonstrates clear UK ambitions on tackling climate change by becoming the first major economy to legislate for this level of emissions reduction. The target also brings UK legislation in line with commitments made at the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015.

Meeting a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 will require far-reaching changes beyond those already under way in energy, industry, buildings and transport. It means that business and government must work together avoid the most damaging effects of climate breakdown.

Achieving a net-zero target will require a huge expansion of renewable and low-carbon power, mass uptake of electric cars, smarter buildings using low-carbon sources of heating, and using nature and technology to capture carbon. All this and much more will shape the future of the UK.

The net-zero opportunity for the UK

It is important that we view the transition as an opportunity for the UK. Society stands to benefit from cleaner technology that can both improve our environment, and at the same time reduce the risks associated with a changing climate. There is an economic case too. As the country continues to debate the nature of its place in a changing world, we can be sure that becoming a leader in the technologies of the future is one way to enable a prosperous future.

We can build on the success already achieved. Ambition from the business and academic community has helped the UK achieve some major milestones on the road to net-zero. A sharp reduction in the use of coal for power generation, rapid falls in the costs of onshore and offshore wind, restarting new nuclear construction, and integration of new battery storage into our electricity grid are all steps in the right direction. With the support of government policy, power sector emissions have reduced six years in a row, and are now the lowest since 1888.

The lessons we learn from this success include the need for ambitious, and predictable government policy that supports market-led delivery of investment and innovation. It is a model that we must use for our other challenges, including transport and heat decarbonisation.

The Low-Carbon 2020s

The heightened public and political desire to act on climate change is happening at just the right time. With only thirty years to reach our net-zero target, accelerating progress during the next decade is absolutely critical.

In November the CBI will publish a report outlining some of our key recommendations for making this a decade of delivering on our climate goals. We know that by building on the progress to-date, combined with long-term policy frameworks, continued funding for R&D and investment to scale up vital technologies and changes to consumer and business behaviour, we can reach net-zero.

Delivering the next stage of emissions reduction through the 2020s will require coordinated action across different sectors, and the CBI has developed priorities to support well-developed policy frameworks that deliver emissions reduction across power, transport, heat and heavy industry. These include constant review of regulation and enforcement to ensure decarbonisation is a priority; creating a positive environment for investors that will harness the resources of private capital; a strategy that enables the UK to export its low-carbon expertise, and a focus across society on delivering a ‘Just Transition’.

Next year, the world’s attention will be on the UK as it hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. This is a major opportunity to demonstrate the country’s low-carbon expertise and ambition on climate action. It will be the most significant climate change conference since the 2015 Paris Agreement as signatories review their national plans to limit global warming by 1.5°C. Our Government will have the opportunity to manage these negotiations and once again lead international efforts to agree strategies for emissions reduction.

By hosting the conference the UK will also have an opportunity to bring together business, communities, scientists, politicians and all of society in our own effort to decarbonise and make the race to net-zero a success. The CBI will continue to drive the business response to climate change, working across sectors to get the right policies in place to help reduce emissions as quickly as possible.

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Author – James Diggle, Head of Energy and Climate Change, CBI