UK industry set to miss 2050 net-zero goal

23rd September 2021

Seven of the UK's 17 key industry sectors are still increasing their emissions year-on-year, and most will miss their 2050 net-zero targets without significant government action, new research suggests.

The study by the University of the West of England (UWE) identified manufacturing, construction and transport as needing particular attention, given the steep carbon challenges they face. Only five of the 17 industries analysed are currently decreasing emissions, while another five are stable.

As a result, the study forecasts that these industries will only deliver emission reductions of 131 megatons (mt) by 2050, which is just slightly more than a third of the 328mt required.

The study also highlights the interconnection between industry sectors, as well as the need for the government to act as the coordinating voice in order to implement progressive initiatives.

”The UK industrial sectors are highly interconnected and therefore it is important to adopt a joined-up and collaborative approach to net zero,” said Dr Laura de Vito, who works at UWE's Air Quality Management Resource Centre.

“The UK government will need to play a crucial role in driving this change at the required scale and pace, and in unlocking collaboration opportunities across industry sectors and at all levels of society.”

The report outlines how the cost of decarbonisation will reach 1-2% of GDP by 2050, but explains how this is ultimately affordable, and that the cost of inaction will be far greater.

It argues that many industries’ challenges cannot be overcome without cooperation across supply chains. A joined-up approach is particularly relevant for some heavy industries within manufacturing, such as cement production and construction.

A nationwide approach will also be required, including the education of consumers and making greener options more desirable, according to the report.

It strongly recommends focusing on enabling a shift in public attitudes alongside technological solutions, and highlights the arts and entertainment sectors as having a key role influencing public opinion and encouraging responsible consumption.

Shaun Hicks, chief risk officer at Zurich UK, which commissioned the report, said that the government must also publish a “detailed roadmap to a net-zero economy”, with sector-by-sector analysis and a timeline of decarbonisation expectations.

“Whilst the application of innovations such as hydrogen fuel and carbon capture have great potential in realising a green future, the government needs to provide further clarity to give businesses the time they need to prepare for the net-zero transition,” he continued.

“This study underlines that certain sectors are going to find it tough to decarbonise. Yet despite this, it’s also clear that there are sustainable actions, which every business and individual can do now to contribute to the progress we need to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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