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The UK could have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

A new report says the UK could release net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050 if people stopped overheating their houses, flew less and cut back on meat.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advise the UK government, have announced that it’s completely possible for the UK to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Greenhouse gases are released by everything from cars to factories to farms and are a big contributor to climate change. A net-zero economy might still release emissions like carbon dioxide into the air, but will take them all back out again through things like planting trees or carbon capture technology.

The CCC says big improvements to renewable energy technologies have for the first time made it affordable to replace non-renewable power sources like coal, oil and gas. But becoming net-zero would also require Brits to give some things up.

In particular, they should completely stop heating their home above 19 degrees, drive electric cars, fly less, switch to a low-meat diet and separate out their biodegradable food waste to prevent it going to landfills. The CCC also thinks the UK government must support these policies with money (probably tens of billions of pounds) and laws to make sure people stick to them.

Stopping climate change would have big economic benefits for people living in the UK. Among the problems climate change would cause is damage to crops (making food more difficult or expensive to get hold of) increased flooding (destroying property, workplaces and communities) and more diseases like malaria (bumping up NHS costs, work absenteeism and general unhappiness).

But a zero-emission UK is not enough on its own to avert climate change; the entire world has to follow suit (and even then, there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll be too little, too late). And implementing the CCC recommendation will impose costs Brits might not be willing to stomach.

A government that is spending lots of money promoting recycling schemes or subsidizing electric cars is more likely to raise taxes or cut back spending in other areas (although some argue that the environmental spending will itself create jobs and wealth). And big restrictions on how people travel and what they can eat will probably negatively impact the poorest most. That’s because richer people will find it easier to afford insulation for their homes and decent substitutes, whether it be fake meat or Eurostar tickets.

Read our explainer on: environmental choices.

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