Government launch two online net zero calculators

09 Dec 2020

By Patrick Royce 

The Road to Net Zero

The UK is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under the Climate Change Act. We all know some of the things that will help us on that journey, like renewable electricity generation and electric cars. But how much of each do we actually need to achieve net zero?  To help you answer that question, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy have developed two new online calculators for creating pathways to net zero, called My2050 and the MacKay Carbon Calculator. They were launched at an event on 03 December with an opening keynote by Minister Kwarteng, within whose portfolio net zero falls.


My2050 is a universal tool with 15 user controls or ‘levers’ of decarbonisation, for which you can choose an ambition level between 1 and 4,  and see the effect in a greenhouse gas meter and interactive animation. Level 1 represents minimum effort, and 4 is extreme effort to decarbonise. It is to help the general public and schools to understand about net zero, the key ways to achieve it, and the ways in which individuals can help through their lifestyle choices. You can save your pathway, or share on social media using #My2050UK.

The MacKay Carbon Calculator

The MacKay Carbon Calculator is a more detailed tool with 45 levers of decarbonisation, where you also choose ambition levels between 1 & 4. The calculator is an update to the original ‘2050 calculator’ launched by DECC in 2010, for which the late Sir David MacKay was the driving force. The original calculator saw wide use in undergraduate teaching for courses related to energy. We hope to emulate this with the MacKay Carbon Calculator, and Prof Rebecca Willis of Lancaster Environment Centre and expert lead for the Citizen’s Assembly told the event of her intent to share with her undergraduates students.

Difficult Choices

The Calculator in many cases invites you to make a selection between competing options. For example, should buildings heat be provided by district heating, heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps, or a gas grid that has been decarbonised using low carbon hydrogen and biogas? Or a mixture of those options? Should we use more land for forestry and bioenergy, and if so, will this require changes to our diet in order to free up land currently used for livestock?

The question of diet is a sensitive subject. Our need for livestock, particularly ruminants like cows and sheep, to satisfy our current demand for red meat and dairy in our diets, lead to methane emissions from enteric fermentation which contributes significantly to UK emissions. This livestock also requires a large proportion of UK land area. In order to increase forestry and bioenergy, we will need to reduce livestock, by eating less red meat and dairy. Or switching to white meat, meat substitutes, or a meat-free diet.

The levers are grouped under categories (transport, buildings, etc.) and the lever list can be expanded or collapsed by clicking the heading. For an information sheet, click the lever name. The changes corresponding to the ambition levels 1 to 4 were proposed by an expert group. The tool has 30 interactive graphs with information about emissions and energy use for each of the lever headings. If you want to change the default timeline for lever deployment, click the ‘2100 Mode’ button.

However, beware when creating your pathway that you don’t activate one of the three warnings in the bottom right of the tool. In particular, the biomass warning is set at the CCC Global Governance and Innovation scenario maximum biomass availability. It would be easy to achieve net zero if there was limitless sustainable biomass!

The MacKay Carbon Calculator

About the Author:

Patrick Royce is an energy engineer in the Science & Innovation for Climate and Energy Directorate at BEIS. After completing a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering at UCL he worked in engineering design for two large contractors, followed by roles in primary manufacturing for a major pharmaceutical company and a nuclear consultancy. He joined BEIS in 2017.