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Transitioning to net zero

4 March 2020

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The transition to a low carbon society involves dynamics that will determine the level of prosperity we have in the future, says Dimitri Zenghelis, Project Leader at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. Speaking as part of the final session of the 2020 Christ’s Climate Series, organised by CSaP, Mr Zenghelis emphasized that this transition has the potential to increase efficiency, improve access to green spaces, and to reduce pollution while improving health. In order to reap the benefits of this transition, he suggests that we need to invest in transition early, and to think of the wealth economy in ways beyond GDP, including ideas like natural capital in our calculus.

Concurring, Dr Nina Seega from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership , suggested that in the face of the climate crisis, our society’s options are between an orderly or a disorderly transition. To encourage the expediting of a transition to a low carbon economy, we need to start accounting for the costs of current inaction – including the impact of pollution and climate change on our health.

Reflecting on her experiences working on Net Zero with HM Treasury, Niva Thiruchelvam acknowledged that there will need to be a significant transformation in our society and economy over the next 30 years, which will impact everything from the way we heat our homes, to the cars we drive, and how we eat. While the challenges facing us are not straightforward, she assured listeners that the ambition is there in government to get cracking on tackling these issues.

Reaching net zero will involve making complex decisions in “buckets”, where achieving a just transition, supporting the UK economy during the transition, and considering the impact upon public finances will have to be taken into consideration by HM Treasury, it was suggested. There will be economic and fiscal choices that must be made along the way, and taking into account the costs of the transition to net zero will include careful study of multiple scenarios of net costs, including consequences for inequality, impacts upon the macro economy, and policy costs and fiscal impacts.

Structural changes are likely to be needed, and there will be changes at the household level during the transition to net zero. However, the UK is keen to show that it is possible for a major economy to decarbonize, and Professor Laura Diaz Anadon, Professor of Climate Change Policy at the University of Cambridge highlighted that many of the technologies which we will need to involve in a low carbon transition are already being made more affordable thanks to a wide ranging set of supporting government policies. This includes innovations such as solar power, offshore wind, and lithium batteries.

Going forward, R&D incentives will be an important tool for encouraging the competitive and affordable development of new climate friendly technologies, while banks – in their role as a connector of capital – will have a role alongside experts to create a much more sustainable economy.

You can learn more about other sessions in the 2020 Christ’s Climate Series here.

Photo Credit: 10 10 - Solar Panels on Grange farm - https://flic.kr/p/qFBZN7