The British government’s commitment to achieving “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is a “colossal challenge” that could cost hundreds of billions of pounds, a public spending watchdog has warned.
In June 2019, the UK government passed legislation committing itself to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, in order to deliver on the commitments under the Paris Agreement in 2016.
But the desired leadership role comes at a cost, as the NAO report made clear.
“Achieving net zero is a colossal challenge and significantly more challenging than government’s previous target to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” the report stated.
The public spending watchdog said that the costs of fulfilling the government’s climate pledge are “highly uncertain,” but said the figure is likely to be hundreds of billions of pounds between now and 2050.
The NAO estimated that the government has committed about £20 billion ($27 billion) to policies related to the net zero target in the past four years.
According to estimates by the UK’s Climate Change Committee in 2019, the annual costs of achieving net zero could increase over time and reach around 1 to 2 percent of GDP in 2050.
The NAO report also highlighted the need to persuade individuals to change their behaviour and lifestyles.
“Achieving net zero will depend on individuals adopting new technologies, changing their habits and lifestyles, or a combination of both,” it stated.
“This includes, for example, purchasing zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, instead of cars that run on petrol or diesel; replacing domestic gas boilers with renewable alternatives, such as electric heat pumps; and consuming fewer meat and dairy products.”
The government has already stepped up its effort to encourage behaviour change among the British public.
In April 2020, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) set up a “behaviour change and public engagement team,” which has established cross-government working groups covering themes such as decarbonising homes, mobility, and diet.
But even some of those who campaign for climate actions have so far failed to adopt more climate-friendly behaviours.
Climate change researchers flew five times per year while their counterparts in other areas flew only four times annually, researchers at Britain’s Cardiff University found.