Tony Blair and Net Zero

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Back in January I confessed to having become something of a net zero sceptic.  I wrote:

"I am unconvinced that the present (and next) UK government policies and plans around cutting greenhouse gas emissions will be effective or cost-effective.  I also suspect that they are ill-focused on the problem.  I also consider that they carry considerable risk to the proper relationship between parliament and people which relies on mutual respect.  ... My scepticism includes the worry that a lot of money will be spent to no great effect, with the opportunity costs incurred therein being heavy."

And now I find that the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, in a new report: Reimagining the UK’s Net-Zero Strategy, not only agrees, but is way ahead of me – well they do have more resources.  The report is a useful primer for those new to the UK's Net Zero strategy, the successes we have had so far (eg, the first G7 country to reduce emissions by 50 per cent on 1990 levels), and the daunting challenges we have set ourselves by 2035, 2040 and 2050 (eg to fully decarbonise Britain’s electricity grid by 2030 – a policy the Labour Party seems to have drifted into – even doing this by 2035 requires us to add 3.5 times more generation capacity than has been added since 2010 and doubling the transmission capacity of the electricity grid).  The heroic demands of the UK's 6th carbon budget are set out at the end of this post.  The Blair Institute had already part-explored these issues in the paper Powering the Future of Britain.

"There are, broadly speaking, two core challenges that require a refreshed net-zero strategy: the domestic political and economic challenge associated with meeting the tough targets ahead with current policy and technology, and the challenge of tackling increasing global emissions, particularly in developing countries, which the domestic targets don’t address."

Just so.  We can only hope that the coming election will bring less of this and more realism.  Like me, however, you probably doubt it.


The 6th Carbon Budget 2033 to 2037
  • The CCC pathway assumes the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels in the electricity grid by 2035. This will involve adding 3.5 times more generation capacity than has been added since 2010 and doubling the transmission capacity of the electricity grid.

  • For buildings, the CCC pathway requires upgrading all buildings to energy-performance-certificate standards (EPC) over the next 10 to 15 years and for no new gas boilers to be sold after 2033. This means that by 2030, heat-pump sales must reach just over 1 million per year in new and existing homes. At present, the total market for boiler installations is 1.8 million annually. This involves selling almost 17 times more heat pumps than were sold in 2023, according to the Heat Pump Association.

  • Surface-transport emissions need to reduce by around 70 per cent by 2035. This assumes a ban on new internal-combustion-engine vehicle sales by 2032 as well as a 9 per cent reduction in car miles travelled by 2035. Commercial-transport zero-emission vehicles are to make up 96 per cent of new sales of heavy-goods vehicles, buses and coaches by 2035 and almost 100 per cent by 2040.

  • For aviation, the CCC pathway assumes a gradual reduction in emissions through demand management, improvements in efficiency and a modest but increasing share of sustainable aviation fuels, including through no net expansion of UK airport capacity. Non-CO2 global-warming impacts from aviation such as contrails are not included in carbon-budget accounting.

  • Manufacturing and construction emissions need to reduce by 70 per cent by 2035 compared with 2018 levels. This will involve mass migration to electrification, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen in the late 2020s and early 2030s, as well as energy-and-resource efficiency. The CCC estimates that the cost to the Exchequer of enabling these deep decarbonisation measures in a way that protects trade-exposed subsectors would be around £2 billion per year in 2030. This cost could reduce over time as policies come into force for imports, and industries are subsequently able to pass costs to consumers rather than taxpayers at large.

  • In the CCC’s pathway, agriculture emissions need to decrease by 28 per cent by 2035 and net emissions from land use need to reduce by 93 per cent by 2035, compared with 2018. The CCC pathway suggests one-third of agricultural land will be freed up through changes in output and more efficient farming practices, and 21 per cent of this land is designated to sequester and reduce CO2.

  • The CCC estimates that engineered emissions removals of 58 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) per year are required in 2050, in addition to nature-based sinks of 39 MtCO2 per year from UK land. Removal technologies like biochar, carbon-negative cement and enhanced weathering are considered as speculative so have not been included in the CCC’s scenarios.

  • The carbon budgets are set on the basis of territorial emissions, and they do not allow for international carbon credits to count towards UK emission reductions. But they do recognise that, if future developments allow credits to be applied to sustainable, verified, permanent CO2 removal in a clearly additional way, there would be a stronger case to allow them to contribute to UK targets.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • You present a good example of healthy Skepticism about the Net-Zero politics (of the UK), which mirrors in most ways the same in most developed countries. The big problem of getting away from 'carbon' while still producing the technology to capture 'renewable energy' and producing enough reliable electrical energy is still largely ignored. We keep trying to tweak our way through the problem without looking at the huge complexity of it as something beyond being tweakable.