Environmental Law Service

Climate Law Database

About the British Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Bill was introduced into Parliament on 14 November 2007 and became law on 26 November 2008. The Act has been primarily intended to be a framework legislation to underpin some specific plans, measures and policies which will support the Government’s action to deliver the targeted reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and meet its obligations under the Act. These policies have been presented by the Government as strategies to achieve the targets for GHG reduction under the Act and in some instances the process has moved further to implement these policies through separate pieces of legislation (e.g. the Energy Act 2010). The Act is part of a package of actions to progress the UK transition to a low carbon economy. Key aims of the Act: to improve carbon management, helping the transition towards a low-carbon economy in the UK and to demonstrate UK leadership internationally, signalling that the UK is committed to taking share of responsibility for reducing global emissions in the context of developing negotiations on a post-2012 global agreement at Copenhagen in December 2009.

Main provisions of the British Act

A legally binding target of at least an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Also a reduction in emissions of at least 34 percent by 2020. Both these targets are against a 1990 baseline.

A carbon budgeting system which caps emissions over five-year periods, with three budgets set at a time, to help UK stay on track for 2050 target. The first three Carbon budgets will run from 2008–12, 2013–17 and 2018–22, and were set in May 2009. The Government must report to Parliament its policies and proposals to meet the budgets, and this requirement was fulfilled by the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

The creation of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – a new independent, expert body to advise the Government on the level of carbon budgets and on where cost-effective savings can be made. The Committee will submit annual reports to Parliament on the UK's progress towards targets and budgets. The Government must respond to these annual reports, ensuring transparency and accountability on an annual basis.

The inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions in the Act or an explanation to Parliament why not – by 31 December 2012. The Committee on Climate Change is required to advise the Government on the consequences of including emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Act's targets and budgets. Projected emissions from international aviation and shipping must be taken into account in making decisions on carbon budgets.

Limits on International credits. The Government is required to „have regard to the need for UK domestic action on climate change“ when considering how to meet the UK's targets and carbon budgets. The independent Committee on Climate Change has a duty to advise on the appropriate balance between action at domestic, European and international level, for each carbon budget. The Government must set a limit on the purchase of credits for each budgetary period – for the first budgetary period, a zero limit was set in May 2009, excluding units bought by UK participants in the EU Emissions Trading system.

Further measures to reduce emissions, including: powers to introduce domestic emissions trading schemes more quickly and easily through secondary legislation, measures on biofuels; powers to introduce pilot financial incentive schemes in England for household waste; powers to require a minimum charge for single-use carrier bags (excluding Scotland).

A requirement for the Government to report at least every five years on the risks to the UK of climate change, and to publish a programme setting out how these will be addressed. The Act also introduces powers for Government to require public bodies and statutory undertakers to carry out their own risk assessment and make plans to address those risks.

A new requirement for annual publication of a report on the efficiency and sustainability of the Government estate. The first report was published in June 2009 and is available on the OGC: The State of the Estate web page – http://www.ogc.gov.uk/high_performing_property_the_state_of_the_estate.asp.