Net-zero 2050 target requires ‘unprecedented innovation’

Meeting the UK’s net-zero emissions target by 2050 will require “unprecedented innovation” across the economy in new technology and deploying existing tech, according to a report. 

In its report, research group Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) said meeting the net-zero target before 2050 would not be possible without “highly speculative changes” to lifestyle, land use, and low-carbon technologies.

Meeting the target is only possible if the government acts quickly and invests in technology such as carbon capture and storage and bioenergy, hydrogen, nuclear and off-shore wind power, the report said. 

Researchers modelled potential combinations of technology and behaviour changes that would reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 2050. 

Zero-carbon energy vectors will require an “unprecedented scale-up” to meet growing demand and electricity generation itself has to “double, or even treble if most hydrogen is to be produced by electrolysis”, the report said.

ESC also warned livestock production for dairy and meat may need to be cut by up to 50%, while forests twice the size of Birmingham may need to be planted every year to offset emissions. 

The report also addressed calls from environmental campaigners such as Extinction Rebellion to bring the UK’s net-zero target forward to as soon as 2025. 

It said: “Even if demand for aviation and livestock products were eliminated by 2050, and technology deployment raised to even more ambitious rates, net-zero could only be brought forward to 2045. 

“Achieving an earlier target date would require non-linear reductions in demand (or breakthrough technologies for carbon removals). Our early public engagement around net-zero makes us cautious of pathways that rely on widespread, rapid adoption of such changes.”

Report author Scott Milne said: “No matter which pathway the UK takes, innovation, investment and incentives across low-carbon technology, land use and lifestyle is essential to achieve net-zero.

“And there are massive economic opportunities for the UK to lead the world in these areas.”

Meanwhile, the European Commission is reported to be preparing a strategy for a “clean hydrogen alliance”, according to media network Euroactiv.

Last year, the EU’s VP for a European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said he sees a “pivotal role” for hydrogen as a clean fuel.

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