10 years of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 is certainly worth celebrating.
In this piece of legislation, we have a world-leading climate change governance framework, with UK emissions falling faster than initially projected when the Act came into effect. At the same time, the UK economy has never been bigger.
Huge gains have been made by the rapid phase-out of coal from the UK’s energy mix and the widespread deployment of renewables. Indeed, the rapid fall in offshore wind costs has been remarkable, supporting the narrative that high UK environmental standards lead to investment in R&D and innovation, giving low carbon solutions here in the UK and potential for exports.
We also have a better understanding of UK climate risks, with the national climate adaptation programme and climate change risk assessment becoming well embedded and feeding into decision making. The long-term UK climate projections - which started well before the Climate Change Act - provide an excellent basis of embedding climate resilience into infrastructure development etc.
And we mustn’t forget political durability - the Climate Change Act has continued through Labour, Con/Lib coalition, Conservative majority and now Conservative minority governments, despite the occasional ‘wobble’. While there have been some policy blunders and things that could (arguable should) have been done better (e.g. CRC league tables, consistency on subsidies for solar, effective banning of onshore wind, ‘green deal’ etc.) it has survived. Indeed, the close integration of the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy is evidence of mainstreaming the low-carbon agenda into core economic and business activity.
BUT – despite all this progress, we aren’t on track globally to limit average global temperature change to 2C, never mind the 1.5C that we really need to deliver to avoid dangerous impacts. And we must ask that if the UK is world-leading, what the hell is the rest of the world doing? We don’t have to look far - Ireland’s emission intensity is rising and Germany and Poland are hooked on coal are prime examples. A “level playing field” and “non-regression” in terms of Brexit future arrangements are fine, but is it too much for the EU to sort out backsliding countries in respect of climate change in return? And while we’ve done well in the first three carbon budgets, the fourth and fifth are iffy - indeed the Government’s clean growth strategy falls short of the 57% emissions reduction target by 2030 opening up the possibility of legal challenge.
As we head towards COP 24 (where we’ll have an IEMA presence) and UNFCCC discussions on the Paris rulebook and finance lows from developed to developing nations to support rapid transition to a low carbon future and compensation for loss and damage, it feels like there’s a lack of momentum for climate action, despite the increased urgency.
However, the science is clear. Technological solutions are available. The social and economic consequences are becoming more pronounced and profound.
In celebrating 10 years of the Climate Change Act, here’s hoping that what we’ve already achieved can be replicated in the next decade, and everyone else can deliver similar reductions around the world.
About the Author
Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Advisor - IEMA. Martin Baxter leads on IEMA's policy and external engagement activity. He works in the UK, and internationally, to support the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient, and sustainable economy. Martin is a regular media spokesperson on a range of business sustainability topic areas. He has extensive experience of networking and communicating at all levels, including with senior parliamentarians, Government officials, business leaders, and academia. Martin has national and international experience in developing and negotiating global and European standards and developing capacity for effective and widespread implementation. He is chair of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) sub-committee on environmental management systems and head of the UK delegation. Martin represents the UK on the European Commission Eco-Management and Audit Scheme regulatory committee. Martin is a board member of IEMA and also the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), where he chairs the SocEnv Registration Authority. He is a Fellow of IEMA and the RSA, and a Chartered Environmentalist.