The UK’s climate change legislation should include a ‘net zero’ emissions target to more strongly align it by 2020 with the Paris Agreement, according to a report published today (30 March 2018) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science.

The report, by Sam Fankhauser, Alina Averchenkova and Jared Finnegan at the Grantham Research Institute, draws on interviews with parliamentarians, government advisors, senior officials, experts and stakeholders to assess the impact of the Climate Change Act. The Bill to create the Act received its first reading in the House of Commons on 1 April 2008.

The report, ‘10 years of the UK Climate Change Act’, points out that the introduction of the Act in 2008 and the targets it sets for emissions reductions has been “instrumental” in UK climate policy over the last decade. Since the Act became law in November 2008, annual emissions of greenhouse gases in the UK have fallen significantly, particularly in the power sector, while its economy has grown. The UK’s annual emissions were 41 per cent lower in 2016 than in 1990, but its GDP was 67 per cent higher.

The authors point out that in spite of the success of the Climate Change Act, the UK’s legislation should be updated to bring it into line with the Paris Agreement, and to ensure that emissions targets are met.

While the Climate Change Act’s 2050 target of reducing annual emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 is “technically consistent” with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 Celsius degrees, the report calls for the UK’s legislation to reflect also the Agreement’s target for reducing annual emissions to ‘net zero’.

‘Net zero’ would mean the UK’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities would be balanced by its removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The report concludes that tightening and supplementing the Act “probably needs to take place by 2020 to coincide with the submission of revised ‘nationally determined contributions’ to the Agreement and the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on the 6th carbon budget”. The 6th budget, which will cover the period 2033 to 2037, will need to be set by Parliament in 2021, and based on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) about the most cost-effective path towards the UK’s long-term emissions target.

The report adds the Act could be amended to tighten the 2050 target: “The Act allows for this to happen if there are significant developments in international law or policy (among other potential triggers)”.

However, new legislation will probably be needed for a ‘net zero’ target, says the report. “One way of achieving this would be to complement the Act with a new long-term target for net zero emissions at a future date, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change and based on the latest scientific findings”.

The report also identifies a number of changes to “strengthen the ability to hold the government to account on the Climate Change Act”. It suggests that “the Act should be amended to create a statutory response time for the government to publish its carbon plans, to avoid undue delays”.

The report draws attention to the delay in the publication in October 2017 of the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which outlined policies to meet the 5th carbon budget for 2028-32, passed by Parliament in July 2016.

The report also identifies ways in which the UK’s Climate Change Act has been “a success”.

The Act has “transformed the way the political debate on climate change is conducted”, notes the report. The timetable of carbon budgets, annual progress reports by the Committee on Climate Change and an annual risk assessment “demand a slot” on the political agenda. The Act has also “been successful –but not perfect – in maintaining the UK’s commitment to climate action through some very economically and politically turbulent times”, the report adds.

Based on the interviews, the report’s authors conclude that the Act has “overwhelming political consensus” and is a “symbol of [the UK”s] concern about climate change”. But they also highlight that there have been “periods over the past decade when commitment wavered or when politicians in key positions were sceptical about climate action”. The report warns that the Act is “only ever one political appointment away from difficulties”.

The report goes on to caution that “the gap between the emission targets set in law and the policies put in place to deliver them is widening”. The most recent progress report by the Committee on Climate Change warned that the UK is not currently on track to meet its statutory carbon targets for the late 2020s and early 2030s.

The report states: “The government’s ability and willingness to close the gap between targets and delivery is perhaps the most tangible test of its commitment to climate change”.

To arrange an interview with the authors of the report or more information about this media release please contact Victoria Druce on +44 (0) 207 107 5865 or or Bob Ward on +44 (0) 7811 320346 or



  1. The report will be available after publication at the following link:
    For a full copy of the report under embargo please contact Victoria Druce on +44 (0) 207 107 5865 or or Bob Ward on +44 (0) 7811 320346 or
  2. The report, ‘10 years of the UK Climate Change Act’ is based on 33 semi-structured interviews with active or former civil servants, special advisers, government ministers, shadow ministers, backbench Members of Parliament, policy commentators and private sector representatives from different industries.
  3. Their responses are complemented with insights from the relevant literature, the authors’ own experience in engaging with UK climate policy and several informal conversations with experts in UK policy and in climate change governance.
  4. This work was made possible with a grant from the European Climate Foundation, a Dutch-registered philanthropic organisation that helps deliver a socially responsible transition to a sustainable economy in Europe and around the world. Adhering to the core elements of strategic philanthropy, ECF’s approach is anchored in an intense dialogue on values, strategies and impact, with partners and stakeholders. The ECF supports organisations and activities that improve lives, influence the public debate on climate action, and facilitate urgent and ambitious policy in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
  5. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment ( was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (
  6. The ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy ( is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council ( The Centre’s mission is to advance public and private action on climate change through rigorous, innovative research.
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