The UK should cut greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 to end its contribution to global warming within 30 years, Government climate advisers have said.
The Committee on Climate Change called for ministers to set a new legal target for a 100% cut in all greenhouse gases by mid-century as soon as possible, and to urgently ramp up efforts to cut emissions.
Hitting the “net zero” target will mean an end to heating of homes with traditional gas boilers, more green electricity, and a switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles, walking and cycling.
It could require people to eat less meat and dairy and take fewer flights.
Any remaining pollution in 2050 from areas including aviation will need to be “offset” through measures to capture carbon such as planting trees.
The shift, which is achievable with known technologies, will deliver economic opportunities, as well as warmer and more comfortable homes, cleaner air, better health and a boost for wildlife, a report from the committee said.
It would be in line with commitments to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels under the international Paris Agreement and will provide leadership for other countries on tackling climate change.
It will cost around 1%-2% of annual economic output up to 2050 – the same as predicted a decade ago for the UK’s current 80% target – while the cost of inaction would be many times higher.
Climate Change Committee chairman Lord Deben said: “We can do it, we know how to do it and we will benefit from doing it.”
And he said: “We started the industrial revolution, we have been responsible for the biggest segment of the climate change that is happening in our world today.
“We need to be not only responsible for the leadership to overcome those damages, but also we have an opportunity of leading the new industrial revolution that will be based on the sustainable economy.
“This is the key to a very considerable amount of economic benefit. We will make money as a nation out of this if we do it properly because the rest of the world will want it.”
The report, which was requested by the UK governments last year, warns that the proposed 2040 date for the phasing-out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans is too late, and recommends bringing it forward to 2030, or at the latest 2035.
More ambitious plans are also urgently needed on cutting emissions from heating buildings and developing technology to capture and store carbon from power and industrial plants.
Trebling woodland creation from 10,000 hectares a year today to around 30,000 hectares in 2050, and a 20% cut in beef, lamb and dairy consumption would help meet the target, the report said.
The overall zero emissions target should be met through cuts at home rather than buying carbon “credits” for reductions in other countries and it should cover all sectors of the economy including international aviation and shipping.
Within the UK, Scotland should aim for net-zero greenhouse gases by 2045, while Wales should set a 95% reduction target for 2050, the report said.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “One of our proudest achievements as a country is our position as a world-leader in tackling this global challenge, being the first country to raise the issue on the international stage, introduce long-term legally binding climate reduction targets and cutting emissions further than all other G20 countries.”
He said the committee’s report recognised the work done to lay the foundations to build a net-zero economy and it “now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely”.
The Government is set to respond “in due course” to the report.
Business group the CBI said the recommendations “mark a new dawn for climate change action in the UK”, with a need for a step change in Government policy, business action and the way people live their lives.
The 2050 target was widely welcomed by environmental groups and aid agencies, though there were calls to go further and set an earlier date to reach the net zero goal.
Clara Goldsmith, from the Climate Coalition of groups including the National Trust, RSPB, WWF, the Women’s Institute and Cafod, said: “We call on the Government to set in legislation a world-leading target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and put in place the ambitious policies and investment to back it up.
“This would put the UK in pole position to lead the global zero-carbon revolution.”