Mission Zero

The Debate

After the formal presentations, the speakers joined a panel to answer questions from the audience on a range of topics including: decarbonising housing; new technologies for heating buildings; reduction timings; methane and nitrogen taxes; and tipping points.

Decarbonising the housing sector is a critical challenge for the UK. Technology will be very important for this but it is not sufficient of itself. There is a combination of other more social factors too. We need to put in place measures to encourage behavioural change. Then, we also need the skills that are necessary to support the transition in our housing stock. To manage that diversity of factors successfully, a systems-based understanding is so important.

Improving the energy performance of the whole of the UK housing stock to Scandinavian levels is never going to happen. Significant improvements are possible, though, combined with other mechanisms to produce a total effective result. There are also many interesting technologies emerging such as infrared heating which is designed to heat the person rather than large areas of empty space.

Getting to net zero by 2050 or 2060 is, paradoxically, getting easier. But a 40% reduction by 2030 is becoming close to impossible. So the end point is still inside the IPCC target and, indeed, is almost more likely than five years ago because of the extraordinary progress in some of the technologies – solar PV, wind, batteries, electrolysers and hydrogen.

Geoengineering is once again being raised as a potential solution – or partial solution – to the issue of climate change. It is incredibly difficult for a world of different nation states to coordinate targets and drive down emissions fast enough to limit global warming. Shading out the sun and reducing sunlight would seem to be politically impossible but more localised initiatives like increasing the CO2 absorption of soil might be more achievable.

It should be possible to have methane taxes and nitrogen taxes in the same way that as carbon is taxed. It will be more complicated because while it is quite easy to work out how much CO2 is being emitted, the exact amount of nitrous oxide which is emitted by the application of nitrogen based urea and other fertilisers, is much less certain.

In an environment where there are dangers of a number of tipping points being triggered by short term temperature increases, which in turn make future long-term temperature increase even more likely, it is imperative act quickly and with a sense of urgency.