How can we get the UK to net zero by 2050? A policy wish-list

net zero 2050 target policy wish-list

A policy wish-list from our Director and Head of Modelling, Hector Pollitt, using insights from E3ME modelling (not yet published) in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Open University, Radboud University and others.

Getting us to net zero will not be possible without two large policy pushes:

Firstly, a large-scale energy efficiency programme.  These “easy wins” will likely need regulation, not market-based instruments.

Secondly, some kind of carbon price on all sectors. The interaction of the carbon price with other policies (e.g. technology development) is essential for making rapid emission reductions.

Immediate action is needed for the target to be feasible. As the CCC says, there are investment costs. But overall UK GDP could benefit from a) the jobs this creates and b) reduced fuel imports (see chart below).

Other policies that are required:

Support for specific technologies

Even if renewables, heat pumps and electric vehicles become cost competitive, they will not instantly dominate markets. Further economic incentives will speed up the process.

A prompt phase-out of old technologies

Policies are already in place to do this (e.g. coal, inefficient vehicles). Eventually petrol and diesel cars become ‘old technologies’. The timing of this phase out could be critical.

Support for Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS)

Measures to reduce consumption of steel, cement, etc because emissions from industrial processes remain a problem.


A role for solid and liquid biofuels seems inevitable but there are limits to how much can be used. Until electric vehicles dominate there is a risk that the transport demands on biofuels could be excessive. Aviation will likely need some biofuels.

Agriculture and land use

E3ME does not cover agricultural and land use emissions in detail (yet) but further regulatory policy will be needed here too.

This chart shows results if other countries take action too:

reach net zero target 2050

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