The Path to Net Zero: Climate Assembly UK Report

By Kevin Boon

The citizens’ assembly on climate change final report The Path to Net Zero has been released today 10 September 2020. 

In June 2019, the UK Government and Parliament agreed that the UK should do more to tackle climate change. They passed a law committing the UK to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six select committees of the House of Commons to examine the question “How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?” 

The Assembly’s 108 members were representative of the UK population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, location, and their level of concern about the climate crisis. Assembly members were recruited using a process known as sortition.

Assembly members agreed twenty-five underpinning principles for the path to net zero. The top three were 

  • Informing and educating everyone (the public, industry, individuals and government). 
  • Fairness within the UK, including for the most vulnerable (affordability, jobs, UK regions, incentives and rewards) in actions, not just words.
  • Leadership from government that is clear, proactive, accountable and consistent.

The Assembly made wide-ranging recommendations across sectors. Some interesting recommendations made were:

  • Government investment in low carbon buses and trains. 
  • A ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030–2035.
  • Bringing public transport under government control. 
  • Price premium for frequent fliers and those that fly further.
  • A ban on the sale of new gas boilers from 2030 or 2035.
  • Change in diet to reduce meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40%.
  • Labelling products (including food and drink) and services to show their carbon footprint.
  • Technical and financial support to businesses who offer sharing or renting services.
  • Offshore wind, solar power and onshore wind should be the focus for generating electricity (there was much less support for bioenergy, nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture). NB members did not hear detailed evidence about tidal, wave, hydro and geothermal technologies.
  • Getting to net zero should not involve pushing our emissions to elsewhere in the world.
  • For remaining emissions, use of the following for greenhouse gas removal – forests and better forest management, restoring and managing peatlands and wetlands, using wood in construction and enhancing the storage of carbon in the soil. 

In general there needs to be cross-party support to prevent policies changing when governments change.

In the context of COVID-19, the Assembly saw a new sense of opportunity for change, and altered perceptions of what is possible (e.g. what government can do). They also noted lifestyle changes that are already happening.

The assembly did not pass two proposals focused on reaching net zero by an earlier date than 2050.

A survey of assembly members found that 90% either ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that “assemblies like this should be used more often to inform government and parliament decision making”.

Read the full report here.