Zero carbon Britain

Kim Bryan examines a new report that sets out to show that it's possible to make Britain 'zero carbon' by 2030

July 25, 2010
5 min read


Kim Bryan works for the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales.

All human societies have had to face challenges of one sort or another. But the scale and scope of the challenges today is perhaps greater than in the whole of recorded history. A changing climate, diminishing fossil fuel reserves and rising energy demands are inter-connected problems that demand a common solution.

The Centre for Alternative Technology set itself a task in 2007: to work out if it was possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030 in order to help avoid a critical 2° global temperature rise and provide energy and economic security. Published in June, the result is Zerocarbonbritain2030, a 400-page brick of a book, produced by NGOs, academics, scientists and industry.

The report is consciously framed in the context of the existing economic paradigm and while there are undoubtedly bigger issues that underpin a transition to a greener society, the authors set out to show that greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced to zero within 20 years without resorting to nuclear energy or international carbon offsetting. As such the report does not address issues such as international trade, neoliberalism, the politics of growth capitalism or class, gender and equity issues in anything approaching enough detail. However, it makes clear that embracing a zero carbon future would mean a deliberate reconstruction of the UK economy, ensuring climate and economic stability, increased energy and food security and millions of new, permanent jobs.

To secure a 70 per cent chance of staying below a 2° temperature rise, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to approach zero by 2100. The Zerocarbonbritain2030 report takes into account the UK’s historical responsibility for carbon emissions and argues that it should therefore take on a greater share of the burden to allow the majority world a longer period to decarbonise.

Power down to power up

Zerocarbonbritain2030 is the first fully integrated solution to climate change in the UK. The report is divided into five sections: the climate context, ‘power down’, land use, ‘power up’, and policy. ‘Power down’ demonstrates how we can reduce our energy demand by 57 per cent through energy efficiency and saving measures and ‘power up’ renewables to 100 per cent to meet the reduced demand.

The report’s proposals include:

n Buildings: It demands a deep refurbishment of existing buildings and highlights the needs for a code of sustainable refurbishment to cover the industrial and commercial sector. By constructing new buildings from wood, straw and other natural materials we can lock away millions of tonnes of CO2.

n Transport: Electrification of vehicles and a major shift to walking, cycling and public transport could produce a 63 per cent reduction in energy use for transport purposes. Contentiously, one third of current aviation could be maintained by growing sustainable bio-fuels in the UK.

n Land: One of the most controversial sections of the report is its land use scenario. The report shows how Britain can provide for its own essential food and fuel. But to do so would require a huge reduction in grazing livestock, which currently uses 83 per cent of agricultural land, generates 82 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and produces less than 30 per cent of the nutritional value of domestically-produced food. These changes, while radical, could be very positive for rural life, generating 93,000 net jobs.

n Renewables: The report demonstrates that all our energy needs, at all times, can be met with 100 per cent renewables. With the right mix of energy in different locations we can meet the challenges of variability in supply. Most would come from offshore wind, a huge resource, which could create thousands of jobs in manufacturing and installation.

A zero carbon transition could create millions of jobs in wind and solar power, and energy-efficiency programmes. For it to work, an international agreement on tackling climate change is vital, with ongoing climate negotiations taking a new direction that brings about swift action and a fair global agreement.

What would it be like?

The report offers one possible scenario that tries to balance what we are used to with what we need to do to reduce emissions rapidly. But what would a a zero carbon Britain look like?

We can imagine that people would be healthier as bikes and pedestrians dominate the roads and diets are largely made up of fresh vegetables, fruit and grains. There would still be cars, aviation and meat, but a lot less.

Rural areas would be repopulated as British farming is revitalised through changes in land use that bring new jobs. Smart appliances and energy efficiency would be buzzwords in the home; heating bills would dive as insulation became the norm and fuel poverty a thing of the past. Internationally a global agreement on climate change would mean that resources are equally distributed and a constant supply of infinite renewable energy would foster international security.

The solutions to create a zero carbon and a high well-being future for all exist. What has been missing to date is the political will to implement them. Zerocarbonbritain2030 is a practical approach to the biggest challenge that humanity has faced. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good beginning. n

Download the report: www.zcb2030.org


Kim Bryan works for the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


2