The Climate Change Act was passed in the UK in November 2008 with an overwhelming majority across political parties. It sets out emission reduction targets that the UK must comply with legally. It represents the first global legally binding climate change mitigation target set by a country.

Net zero target

The Act committed the UK to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. However, this target was made more ambitious in 2019 when the UK became the first major economy to commit to a ‘net zero’ target. The new target requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Carbon budgets

The Act also provides a system of carbon budgeting, to help the UK meet its targets through a series of five-year carbon budgets.

The Climate Change Committee (see below) has reported that the UK met its first, second and third carbon budgets (the latter with a surplus of 15%), but is not on track to meet the fourth (2023–27) or fifth (2028–32) budgets. The Committee published its advice on the sixth budget (2033–37) in 2020 – this was the first carbon budget set in line with the net zero target. Advice will be published on the seventh carbon budget (2038–42) in early 2025.

Committee on Climate Change and National Adaptation Programme

The Act established the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body to provide evidence-based advice to the UK Government and Parliament on the mandatory carbon budgets. The CCC recommended the 2050 target date for reaching net zero, in its landmark report Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, published in May 2019.

The Act also includes a requirement for the Government to develop a National Adaptation Programme (NAP) to manage the effects of unavoidable climate change. Each NAP sets out key actions over five years.

Has the Act had an impact to date?

A review of the Act by the Grantham Research Institute in 2018 found that the Act’s introduction and its carbon budgets have helped to reduce emissions in the UK, particularly in the power sector, while the economy has continued to grow.

Keep in touch with the Grantham Research Institute at LSE
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