The UK government has announced it will pass a law to enforce a new commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a first among G7 nations facing increasingly severe impacts from the climate crisis, according to Reuters.
With global carbon emissions at record highs – despite decades of talks aimed at bringing them within safe limits – outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May said the target was ambitious but essential for protecting Earth's future.
"Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children," she said in a statement.
"Reaching net zero by 2050 is an ambitious target, but it is crucial that we achieve it to ensure we protect our planet for future generations."
The UK’s existing target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, campaigners say this does not go far enough to meet pledges made under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to try to limit a rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Temperatures have already risen about one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. Scientists warn further increases risk triggering tipping points that could render large areas of the globe uninhabitable, devastating farming and drowning coastal cities.
“It's momentous," said David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh. "Achieving net zero by 2050 will change all our lives. It will transform the ways we travel, the homes we live in and the food we eat."
The Committee on Climate Change, the UK’s independent climate advisers, recommended in May that the country move to the new target, which will bring sweeping changes in energy, transport and agriculture.
For example, new petrol and diesel cars might need to be phased out by at least 2035, the Committee said. Households would also need to find low-carbon alternatives to natural gas heating.
Although the new target shows the UK to be a relative leader in terms of climate change policies, the government's decisions to back projects such as a third runway at London's Heathrow airport and fracking have raised questions about the depth of its commitment.
However, many businesses see big opportunities in any low-carbon transition, hoping progress at home will help innovating British companies export to emerging markets hungry for climate-friendly goods and services.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), welcomed the new target and emphasised the need for coordination to deliver the necessary changes.
"Some sectors will need clear pathways to enable investment in low-carbon technologies, and it is vital that there is cross-government coordination on the policies and regulation needed to deliver a clean future," she said.