United Kingdom

Britons must eat less meat if 'colossal' net zero target is to be achieved

Meeting the UK's legal target to cut emissions to net zero to curb climate change is a "colossal challenge", the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned, with people needing to eat less meat and drive electric cars to achieve it. 

The UK has enshrined the goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050 in law, which means cutting greenhouse gases as much as possible and offsetting remaining pollution by planting trees or using technology to capture carbon.

In a report looking at the Government's arrangements for achieving net zero, the official spending watchdog warned it was significantly more challenging than the previous target to cut emissions by 80% by mid century - which the UK is not on track to meet.

The NAO said the costs of achieving net zero were highly uncertain.

But the costs of failing to act would be far greater because of the need to adapt to substantial changes in climate, such as building flood defences and dealing with the impacts on health of higher temperatures, the report said.

The NAO also said the Government needs to spearhead a "concerted national effort" to achieve net zero, which would be likely to involve widespread changes to people's lives such as driving electric cars or eating less meat.

The Government will need to "engage actively and constructively with all those who will need to play a part - across the public sector, with industry and with citizens - to inject the necessary momentum", it said.

The report said the Business Department (Beis) and Treasury are not collating the total costs and benefits of policies that contribute to net zero, adding they should gather information on how much the Government is spending to achieve net zero, how much has been committed and how much it has spent, including the cost of policies on consumer bills.

Plans by Beis to set out a clear net zero strategy before UN Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021 are a "critical step" for achieving the emissions cuts, to help identify people, policies and funding, the NAO added.

The report also warned that the departments responsible for delivering net zero have yet to put in place what they need for effective cross-government working and processes to make sure all of government steps up to the challenge.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: "While emissions have reduced steadily in recent years, achieving net zero is an enormously challenging long-term project, which will require well thought-out cross-government co-ordination to drive unprecedented changes across society and the economy.

"Government needs to step up to the challenge, ensuring it has a clear strategy to achieve its goal and accurately monitoring progress.

"It will have to reach outside of Whitehall and bring together the public sector, industry and all of us as citizens in a co-ordinated national effort spanning decades."

Responding to the report, Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the net zero target was "daunting".

"The Government hasn't put its own house in order yet or done enough to put the UK on course to meet older, easier targets. It's time to lead by example and shift its efforts up a gear," she said.

"Next year's strategy can't be hot air; it needs to set out what every part of Government is going to do, what the Government expects others to do and how it is going to make sure everyone pulls their weight."

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