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Last edited 06 Jan 2022
Climate Change Act
The Act is very wide-ranging. It sets legally-binding targets, creates new powers, changes the institutional framework, establishes systems to ensure accountability and addresses resilience to climate change.
The key provision is the creation of a legally binding commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses by at least 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. The Act also requires the Government to publish carbon budgets setting five-yearly caps on greenhouse gas emissions.
Other specific measures include:
- The establishment of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) - formerly referred to as the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - to advise Government and report annually to Parliament.
- The preparation of a Low Carbon Transition Plan to report policies and proposals to Parliament.
- Special measures relating to the introduction of domestic emissions trading schemes.
- Amendments to the Energy Act in relation to renewable transport fuels (biofuels), see Schedule 7 of the Act.
- The power to introduce pilot finance incentive schemes for household waste.
- Powers relating to charges for single use carrier bags.
- Policies in relation to corporate reporting of emissions (see The contribution that reporting of greenhouse gas emissions makes to the UK meeting its climate change objectives).
- A requirement to publish an annual State of the Estate report the efficiency and sustainability of the Government's civil estate.
- The establishment of the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) as to advise the Committee on Climate Change in relation to climate risks.
- A requirement to carry out a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every 5 years.
- A requirement to prepare a National Adaptation Programme to address the risks identified in the CCRA (to be reviewed every five years).
- The power to require public authorities and statutory undertakers to report on how they have assessed the risks of climate change, and what they are doing to address those risks.
There are concerns about the cost of achieving the targets set out by the Act, and whether, if the targets become unachievable, the Act will simply be scrapped. There have already been some calls to repeal the Act, but after a review of all legislation with a view to cutting red tape, the Government appears to have confirmed its commitment to the Climate Change Act.
There is some suggestion that at present, carbon emissions are not falling fast enough and that this will be exacerbated by continuing population growth in the UK. In 2012, the CCC suggested that the pace of measures to reduce emissions needs to increase fourfold if the Climate Change Act commitments are to be met (see Meeting the Carbon Budgets - 2012 Progress Report to Parliament).
In October 2018, the government wrote to the CCC asking for advice about a roadmap to a net zero economy, including how emissions might be reduced and the expected costs and benefits of doing so. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-climate-targets-request-for-advice-from-the-committee-on-climate-change
On 2 May 2019, 10 years after the Climate Change Act became law, the CCC published a report suggesting the UK can end its contribution to global warming by setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming was requested by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments in light of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC’s Special Report in 2018.
The report suggest that:
- The foundations are in place to implement the policy throughout the UK.
- Policies will have to ramp up significantly for a ‘net-zero’ emissions target to be credible.
- The overall costs of the transition to a net-zero economy are manageable.
Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response. The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part – we explain how in our new report – but it can be done within the cost envelope that Parliament has already accepted. The Government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay.”
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC said: "Today's report marks a watershed moment in our efforts to tackle climate change. The UK must take responsibility as a global leader to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and the building sector has a crucial role to play in this transition. According to WorldGBC, achieving this will require all new buildings to be net zero carbon by 2030 and all existing ones by 2050 – which will require outstanding levels of energy efficiency alongside zero carbon electricity and heat supplies."
On 12 June 2019 Prime Minister Theresa May announced the UK will ‘eradicate’ its net contribution to climate change by 2050. The statutory instrument to implement this policy was was laid in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act 2008. For more information see: Net zero carbon 2050.
On 10 July 2019, CCC published a damning assessment of progress in preparing for climate change in England. The report suggested that the priority given to climate adaptation has been eroded over the past ten years and that England is still not prepared for even a 2°C rise in global temperature, let alone more extreme levels of warming. Ref https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/progress-in-preparing-for-climate-change-2019-progress-report-to-parliament/
John Alker, Director of Policy & Places, UKGBC, said: “It is time for the Government to wake up on climate action. Having loudly trumpeted the UK's global leadership credentials in setting a net zero target, today's report has laid bare the scale of the challenge and how far we are currently falling short."
On 9 December 2020, CCC presented its detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation. The Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) charts the decisive move to zero carbon for the UK. The CCC shows that polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels – a big step-up in ambition.
To deliver this, a major investment programme across the country must be delivered, in large measure by the private sector. That investment will also be the key to the UK’s economic recovery in the next decade. In many areas, this gives people real savings, as the nation uses fewer resources and adopts cleaner, more-efficient technologies, like electric cars, to replace their fossil-fuelled predecessors. The CCC finds that these savings substantially reduce the cost of net zero compared with previous assessments: now down to less than 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years. This is thanks, not only to the falling cost of offshore wind but also a range of new low cost, low-carbon solutions in every sector.
- Take up of low-carbon solutions. People and businesses will choose to adopt low-carbon solutions, as high carbon options are progressively phased out. By the early 2030s all new cars and vans and all boiler replacements in homes and other buildings are low-carbon – largely electric. By 2040 all new trucks are low-carbon. UK industry shifts to using renewable electricity or hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, or captures its carbon emissions, storing them safely under the sea.
- Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies. UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system, growing from the Prime Minister’s promised 40GW in 2030 to 100GW or more by 2050. New uses for this clean electricity are found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.
- Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities. The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the UK. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
- Land and greenhouse gas removals. There is a transformation in agriculture and the use of farmland while maintaining the same levels of food per head produced in 2020. By 2035, 460,000 hectares of new mixed woodland are planted to remove CO2 and deliver wider environmental benefits. 260,000 hectares of farmland shifts to producing energy crops. Woodland rises from 13% of UK land in 2020 to 15% by 2035 and 18% by 2050. Peatlands are widely restored and managed sustainably.
- Achieving zero carbon.
- Architects Declare.
- Blue hydrogen.
- BSRIA Briefing 2021.
- Carbon emissions.
- Carbon plan.
- CIOB responds to Sixth Carbon Budget.
- Civil engineers must report climate-change risk.
- Climate change science.
- Climate Change Levy.
- Climate target revisions for Carbon Budget 6.
- COP21 Paris 2015.
- CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.
- Decarbonising concrete in the UK.
- ECA calls for urgent energy price reform.
- Energy Act.
- Emission rates.
- Energy related products regulations.
- Energy targets.
- England metro mayors work to deliver ambitious climate action.
- Environment Bill 2020.
- Environmental policy.
- Environmental Protection Act.
- Gas Goes Green.
- Greenhouse gases.
- Happold lecture on climate change.
- Keeping 1.5°C Alive: Closing the Gap in the 2020s.
- Kyoto protocol.
- National Adaptation Programme.
- Net zero carbon 2050.
- Resilience of UK infrastructure and climate predictions.
- SO2 Scrubbers.
- Sustainable Development Goals and the triple bottom line.
- Taking action on climate change.
- The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future.
- The Low Carbon Transition Plan: National strategy for climate and energy.
- Thermal imaging of the building fabric in the net zero world.
- UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.
- UKGBC publishes renewable energy procurement and carbon offsetting guidance.
- WFEO Climate Stories: How climate change is affecting the UK.
- Why all civil engineers should sign up to this pledge.
- Zero carbon homes.
- Zero carbon non-domestic buildings.
 External references
- The Act in full.
- Department of Energy & Climate Change: Climate change act 2008.
- Department of Energy & Climate Change.
- CCC: Building a low-carbon economy.
- CCC, Sixth Carbon Budget.
- Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.
- DEFRA: Climate science and research.
- DEFRA: Adapting to climate change.
- DEFRA: Advice for infrastructure companies.
- ECA responds to the UK hydrogen strategy.
- The Edge Debate: The Politics of Carbon Emissions Data.
- Cabinet office: State of the Estate 2011. Published in May 2012.
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