Climate Change Act: Experts reflect on pioneering legislation 10 years on

With November marking the 10th anniversary of the UK Climate Change Act (CCA) receiving Royal Assent, a host of leading sustainability experts have provided their insights on the impact of the ground-breaking legislation on Britain's low-carbon economy.

On 26 November 2008, a piece of legislation was passed into law in Westminster which saw the UK become the first country to set a legally-binding long-term carbon reduction target – 80% reduction by 2050.

The Act also heralded the launch of five-yearly carbon budgets, as well as ministerial watchdog the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which to this date continues to be an authoritative custodian of analytical honesty and rigour.

To mark the 10th anniversary, the Energy Institute has heard from ten figures who were in leading change positions to “reflect on how it came to pass, what it has meant for the UK and the prospects for the future”.

One of these influencers is Richard Black, the then BBC Environment Correspondent, who now directs the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU). “It’s hard to exaggerate the significance… [of the CCA],” Black said.

“The first country anywhere in the world to set an emissions reduction target in law, the establishment of an independent advisor and scrutineer, successive carbon budgets – these lie at the heart of the Act, and are the tools that have made the UK’s decarbonisation path smoother and more logical than in many other nations. Even more impressive, perhaps, is the huge support that it commanded and still commands across Parliament and across society.”

His thoughts were echoed by Secretary General of Co-operatives, UK Ed Mayo, who has heralded the document as the “Great Reform Act of the climate era”.

Mayo said: “There were, are and will be a multitude of initiatives and actions around climate change, but this was the one that will make the school history e-books of the future, because it was an innovation in democracy – trying to shape how successive governments and elected leaders could act in line with climate science over time.”

‘Chopping and changing’

The study explores whether the CCA has lived up to its ambition, looking at where the UK has been successful in decarbonised the economy, as well as the areas where progress has been more lacklustre.

Commenting on the role that the CCA has had on influencing the behaviour and decision-making of companies and policymakers, Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett commented: “The CCA has provided business with the long-term confidence to scale up investment in low carbon technologies, but this has – at times – been eroded by a chaotic chopping and changing of policy mechanisms in specific policy areas; such as around energy efficiency and renewables.

“If and when our political leaders provide clear and consistent leadership on the need to tackle climate change, rather than mixed and contradictory messages and policies, then we will see far faster changes in behaviour.”


The research comes a few weeks after the IPCC’s landmark report warning that the global temperature increase will hit 1.5C by 2030, and 3-4C by the end of the century. There are signs that Britain could be set to boost its own contributions to the Paris Agreement, with the UK Government recently confirming that it is seeking advice from the CCC on how best to bolster its carbon reduction targets and create a net-zero economy.

Asked whether the CCA is consistent with the Paris Agreement, Black said: “Technically, the Act is consistent with the Paris Agreement because the long-term emissions-cutting target is ‘at least 80%’. Also, the Agreement commits countries to net-zero emissions ‘in the second half of the century’, which is also consistent with the Act. But we need to get real here.

“The UK pledged in the Paris Agreement to ‘make efforts’ to keep global warming to 1.5°C. As a developed nation it is committed to leading. With the IPCC concluding that the world needs to reach net-zero carbon emissions around midcentury, a UK net-zero target ahead of 2050 is really the only game in town.”

George Ogleby

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    If the physical sciences evidence were demonstrably behind the impending disaster if we do not lead the world to zero carbon dioxide emission,(note CO2, not carbon, sheer linguistic indolence), I would be better persuaded.

    That climate changes, no argument, climates have always changed.

    That CO2 has an effect, no argument, but the magnitude is not known, nor is the mechanism by which it has an influence beyond its concentration, 0.04% in the atmosphere; water vapour, the big GHG, about 2.5%. Explanation needed, and its proof.

    The big driver of all this is in the money (public money) to be made by spreading alarm, then calming the waters with assurances that, well, we can save the situation, but it will cost you.

    Holders of degrees totally unrelated to the physical sciences or engineering relevant to the subject, hold forth at length, but only muddy the waters.

    Richard Phillips

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie