Earlier this year Britain announced that it would be aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050, a parting gift from Theresa May. It was described by the chancellor as “one of the most ambitious long-term carbon targets in the world”.
I said at the time that it shouldn’t be seen as ambitious at all, and that “it’s actually likely to be fairly normal for a European country, or it certainly should be. As the Climate Change Committee have pointed out, 2050 is basically the least we can do to remain within the science. Anything less than that would be failing our international commitments.”
Fast forward five months, and by the end of last week’s UN summit, there were 66 countries with a net zero by 2050 target. Among them are the European Union, much of the Carribean and many small island states. Latin America is well represented and so is Scandinavia. In fact I’ll go ahead and add all 66 below, because the list hasn’t been well publicised.
Among the notable absences, such as the USA or Australia, several regions or cities have made a 2050 pledge in spite of their government’s position. Several Chinese cities are on the list, and a number of corporations based in India. There are of course other commitments beyond 2050 or involving specific targets for power or efficiency, and I might mention some of those another time.
Yes, we’ve legislated for it and others haven’t yet. But the key point is this – Britain’s 2050 target is more or less the definition of on par. A third of the UN’s membership countries now have a net zero by 2050 target or better. If you aren’t aiming for zero, there should be a very good reason why.
Among those with valid reasons for hesitating over net zero are low income countries that are rapidly developing. In which case, the build-out of infrastructure will make net zero very difficult, even with 100% renewable energy. If those countries are operating from a low emissions base, an increase in emissions is entirely legitimate, and can be managed as part of a contraction and convergence model.
This is part of the reason why sharper emissions cuts make sense in advanced economies like Britain. If we bring forward our targets to 2030 or 2035, we create more leeway for those countries that are vulnerable to climate change, but have contributed very little to it. It avoids forcing low income countries onto zero targets too soon, and helps to redress the historic imbalances in climate change. Climate justice is one of the arguments for genuinely ambitious climate targets, and why we shouldn’t consider 2050 to be the last word.
For today however, I think it’s worth pausing to celebrate just how quickly 2050 has gone from being a stretch goal to the standard, and the surprisingly diverse range of countries, regions, cities and businesses that have adopted it already.
Countries that have announced a target to be carbon neutral by 2050:
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Cabo Verde, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Union, Federated Stated of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kiribati, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu.
A full list of businesses, regions and cities is available here.