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Climate Emergency: Is 2050 Too Late for Net Zero?

Climate Emergency: Is 2050 Too Late for Net Zero?

Intelligence Squared Presents Climate Emergency: Is 2050 Too Late for Net Zero?

One of the last things Theresa May did before leaving office in 2019 was to commit the UK to a net zero carbon target by 2050. Other countries have made similar commitments. Weaning the entire global economy off carbon-based fuels on this sort of timescale sounds ambitious. Or is it not ambitious enough?

Activists argue that setting 2050 as the target date is a huge mistake. Doing so gives the false impression that action can be delayed, they say, and will only make governments and corporations complacent. But the bigger point is that even if we get to net zero by 2050 the damage caused by carbon emissions in the intervening years will be catastrophic and irreversible. The science on this, activists say, is clear. And the evidence is all around us - in wildfires, melting ice and rising temperatures. We must aim for a much earlier date. To aim for 2050 is to accept the unacceptable.

That's the argument of the naive eco-activists, opponents say. Sure, there are things countries could do to lower emissions more quickly but that’s not the same as getting to zero – and focusing on reducing emissions in the short term will distract us from the bigger goal of getting us to zero. To achieve that we need a coherent plan that will include producing more clean energy, making more use of the technologies we already have and innovating to find clean ways to make steel and concrete. We also need to find ways to do all of this cheaply. It is crucial that we stick to this vision, proponents of 2050 say, and not get dangerously distracted by eco-fantasies that we can somehow magic up clean ways to manufacture steel, for example. Getting to net zero by 2050 is a colossal task. But we can achieve it and when we do it won't be too late to save the planet.

So who's right and who's wrong? Join George Monbiot, Lucy Yu and Bim Afolami MP to debate on September 8 and have your say.

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