Marking a decade of the Climate Change Act

14th December 2018

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A decade ago, the UK introduced the world’s first law to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Here, we look at what the Climate Change Act has achieved, and what challenges await.

A celebration

The Act received royal assent on 26 Nov 2008, and created a practical pathway for the UK to achieve an 80% cut in 1990 emissions levels by midway through this century.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was established to provide evidence on how to meet these targets, the UK had cut 1990 emissions levels by 43% in 2017, with the economy growing by two- thirds during the same period.

This means that the country will have met its first two carbon budgets for 2008-2012 and 2013-17, and is also on track to meet its third for 2018-2022.

The Act is also boosting climate change resilience, with the government spending more on flood defences, looking at sustainable urban drainage systems, and considering enhanced natural flood management – all things that are recommended by the CCC.

Other nations have introduced their own legislation since 2008; Sweden has created its own laws along similar lines to the Act, while Australia and Ireland are looking to do the same.

CCC chief executive Chris Stark said: “The Climate Change Act is a celebration of what can be achieved by a confident, optimistic parliament, demonstrating global leadership on the defining issue of our times.”

No longer sufficient

However, the CCC warns that the next 10 years will be critical if the UK is to build on the last decade, with intensive action needed to achieve its carbon budgets in the 2020s and 2030s. A report published by the watchdog last June revealed that failure to decarbonise transport and agriculture has meant the UK is likely to miss its fifth carbon budget for 2028-2032.

The good news is that the government can be taken to court if it fails to act on the CCC’s advice, which includes recommendations for low-carbon heating, carbon capture and storage, and policies for agricultural emissions that have so far been “largely ignored”.

There is hope that the UK will achieve its fourth and fifth budgets; in October, energy minister Claire Perry wrote to the CCC asking for advice on setting a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target.

“The Act provided the impetus for the story of the last decade: decarbonising electricity. That was the right strategy, but it’s not sufficient now,” Stark said. “10 years is a good review point, we can check in on the latest science and the global position. I’m pleased we’ve received the instruction to look again at the UK’s long-term 2050 climate change target – our advice is due to be published in spring 2019, then all eyes will be on parliament again.”

Read IEMA chief policy advisor Martin Baxter’s blog post on 10 years of the Climate Change Act at here.

Image credit: iStock

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