How do we bring a zero carbon future to reality?

Recently the UK government announced a pledge to reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain one of the first G7 nations to bring forward the legislation. This new commitment follows a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) released in May, which recommended the ‘net zero’ target and provided insight into what the future could look like. It is said that the UK’s ‘net zero’ target could potentially cost £1 trillion and bring cuts to public services such as the police, NHS, schools and hospitals. It’s evident that some sacrifices will need to be made in order to reach our ultimate end goal. In the long term we’ll see significant benefits such as improved quality of life due to better air quality, which will inevitably lead to cost savings for the NHS.

More recently, all across the UK we’ve seen young climate change activists taking part in school strikes and Extinction Rebellion protesters calling for action and even proposing a shorter ‘net zero’ target of 2025. It’s this rise in activism, although not always welcomed with open arms, that’s helped to bring wider awareness to the climate crisis, forcing politicians to pay attention to the UK’s contribution to global warming. Ambitious targets have been set by the government – so how will the UK achieve this and what role does technology play in this?

Digital technologies are key to decarbonising the world and digital will help the UK to become a zero carbon economy. The SMARTer2030 report states that ICT has the potential to enable a 20 per cent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030, keeping emissions at 2015 levels.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), carbon capture and storage (CCS) will play a crucial role in making a ‘net zero’ UK a reality. Progress in bringing this technology to life has been slow in the UK, with the government famously cancelling its £1 billion competition to build a large-scale model of CCS in 2015. However, earlier this year Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry, announced a new Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) Advisory Group, with the aim of bringing together experts to help develop the CCUS market in the UK.

Decarbonising our vehicle and transport fleets, and becoming electrified, will be essential if we are to achieve our long-term target. As highlighted in a previous blog, between January 2018 and January 2019 we saw a 110 per cent increase in electric vehicle (EV) registrations. If we are to increase EV take up we need to improve the EV charging infrastructure in the UK, making it easier for people to charge their vehicles at home, work or on the go.

Another area worth noting in the UK’s road to ‘net zero’ is buildings - in April the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) launched a framework definition for ‘net zero’ carbon buildings to encourage greater implementation and to help the construction and property industry transition to ‘net zero’ by 2050. As we envisage the intelligent buildings of the future, we’ll see an increase in smart sensors for anything that is using energy where we can analyse our usage, increase efficiency and predict future consumption. An IHS Markit study found that LED bulbs helped to cut 570 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2017. It’s clear that technology has helped and will continue to play a key role in the UK achieving its ‘net zero’ target, however a collaborative effort is still required across all industries.

While for some it may seem as though a ‘net zero’ target is both unrealistic and too ambitious for the UK, I believe that with the right steps in place, a more collaborative effort across all industries and greater cross-party support, we can achieve our ‘net zero’ target by 2050. From my experience of working with companies in the low-carbon space at Madano, it’s clear that there are innovative technologies that can help us turn this ambitious goal into a reality.


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