This policy brief summarises a longer policy report (43pp), published on 1 April 2018.

Headline issues

  • The experience of the UK’s Climate Change Act provides lessons for climate law-making that apply internationally.
  • The Climate Change Act has been instrumental in advancing climate action over the past decade but reform will be needed if the UK is to meet its international climate obligations.

Key points

A comprehensive framework law is an essential tool for coordinating action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resilience. A good climate law contains statutory targets, assigns clear duties and responsibilities and provides clarity about the long-term direction of travel. Economy-wide, multi-year targets, set well in advance, help to define a clear yet flexible path towards the long-term climate objective. A strong independent body is critically important to ensure consistent policy delivery and evidence-based decision-making.

In the UK the introduction of the Act and its carbon budgets has helped to reduce emissions, particularly in the power sector, while the economy has continued to grow. Although the Act is technically consistent with the Paris Agreement, it will probably need supplementing by 2020, for instance by including a target for achieving ‘net zero’ emissions.

New safeguards are needed to strengthen the ability to hold the UK government to account, for example by creating a statutory response time for the government to publish its carbon plans. All parts of government must be fully committed to implementation of the Act as the UK moves into a more challenging phase of emissions reductions.

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