Climate change law

The world's first climate change law

At the end of October 2008 the UK Parliament voted for a climate change law - the world’s first - following a long campaign led by Friends of the Earth which PCS supported In line with policy agreed at conference in 2006.

We successfully campaigned with Friends of the Earth and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition to increase the government’s target for cutting carbon emissions and for aviation and shipping to be included in the legislation. Stop Climate Chaos said our support was "very valuable and helped achieved a fantastic result".

Overall, nearly 200,000 people contacted their MP. Friends of the Earth hailed the campaign as an instance where “people power has changed politics”.

Speaking during the Bill's third reading in the House of Commons, secretary of state for energy and climate change Ed Miliband acknowledged the role that campaigning had played in getting a UK climate change law:

"I end by paying those who saw the dangers of climate change and the actions that needed to be taken long before the politicians did. I pay tribute to the scientists who detected the problem, the campaigners who fought to bring it to public attention, the green movement that mobilised for change, and above all, the members of the public who wrote to us in record numbers, asking for a Bill that met the scale of the challenge."

What the climate change law does

The law commits the Government to cutting the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.  Emissions from international aviation and shipping, which the government had planned to exclude, will now be included in the target.

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advises the government on carbon budgets with regular reports to parliament to monitor how well or not the UK is on track to achieve the target. Up-to-date reports on progress can be found  on the CCC's website: 

Ten years of the Climate Change Act

In 2018, the Climate Change Act was ten years old.  According to the CCC, the achievements of the act to date have been:

  • To formalise how the UK tackles climate change, providing a clear direction of travel, while allowing for flexibility and innovation.
  • Maintaining a remarkable cross-party consensus, with five carbon budgets being approved by Parliament. These budgets create a smooth and practical pathway towards the UK’s 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 80% compared to 1990 levels.
  • UK emissions have continued to fall since the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. In 2017, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were 43% below 1990 levels, while the economy grew by two-thirds over the same period. This means the UK will have met the first two carbon budgets (2008-12 and 2013-17) and is on track to meeting the third (2018-22)
  • The Act has cemented the UK’s position as an international leader in climate change. Other countries have introduced their own legislation, and many have based it on the Climate Change Act (e.g. Sweden)

Whilst this has been a ground breaking piece of legislation, there is much work to do.  Some of the challenges the CCC have set out include: 

  • Intensive action is required if the UK is to drive down its emissions right across the economy and meet its carbon targets into the 2020s and 2030s at least cost.
  • More action is needed to ensure the nation is adequately prepared for changing average conditions and more extreme weather; in the natural environment, built environment, infrastructure and through changing people’s behaviour.
  • The government’s Clean Growth Strategy sets out how it intends to meet the 4th and 5th carbon budgets, but the Strategy does not yet go far enough. Urgent action is needed to flesh out current plans and proposals, and supplement them with additional measures, to meet the UK’s legally-binding carbon targets in the 2020s and 2030s.

In the light of the Paris Climate Agreement 2015 and the October 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Act needs to be updated in line with a target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C (the current 80% 2050 reduction target assumes a rise of 2°C).



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