Environment Agency chief executive James Bevan says reaching 'net zero' on carbon emissions won't be enough to save the planet

Reaching net zero on carbon emissions will not be enough by itself to properly combat the climate emergency and save the planet, according to the chief executive of a government agency responsible for protecting the environment.

Speaking at a round table event for government and industry leaders today, Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan will praise the efforts to ensure that any carbon emissions are cancelled out in the coming decades.

But he will urge them to adopt “net zero plus”, reducing emissions while also adapting to the more extreme weather and rising sea levels that are inevitable due to damage already done.

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Climate change commission launches in Yorkshire and the Humber to tackle crisis ...
Flooding in East Cowick last year. Sir James Bevan has told leaders to adopt “net zero plus”, reducing emissions while also adapting to the more extreme weather and rising sea levels that are inevitable due to damage already done. Pic: PA

It comes as a new climate commission in Yorkshire and the Humber prepares to launch tomorrow in a bid to help the region's leaders meet their net zero commitments.

Many local authorities have declared climate emergencies and town halls in cities such as Leeds and Sheffield have set themselves the target of achieving net zero by 2030.

Sir James is expected to say today: “Even if the world was to stop all its carbon emissions tonight, the effects of the emissions that have already happened will continue to make themselves felt for decades.

“Global average temperatures have already warmed 1˚C above pre-industrial temperatures, and we’re already seeing evidence of more frequent and more extreme flooding, droughts, water shortages and wildfires; faster and more extreme coastal erosion; and potentially permanent damage to habitats, plants, wildlife and cultural heritage."

Sir James said that however quickly the world is able to reach net zero it will experience a continued rise in sea level well into the next century. Average sea levels have already risen by around 16 centimetres since 1900 and could increase by over a metre by the end of this century, he said.

He added: “Even with the ambitious global and national actions we all want to see to reduce emissions, some further climate change is now inevitable.

"That is why as a nation we need to be climate ready so that we are resilient to the future hazards and potential shocks that would otherwise impact our economy, our prosperity, and our lifestyle.”

And he said that cities, infrastructure and the economy would need to adapt to the effects of climate change if they are to thrive in the coming years.

He added: "That’s because climate adaptation offers all of us, including every single business, a world of new opportunities.

"There are economic opportunities: to innovate and drive growth, and many companies are seizing those.

"But the most exciting opportunity of all is the opportunity to create a better world: to build back better when flooding or drought damages homes and businesses; to create cleaner, greener cities which are more beautiful and better to live in than the ones we have now; and enhance nature at the same time as we lock up more carbon.”

Sir James Bevan will speak at the Westminster and Industry Group Net Zero Roundtable from 10am today.