The Climate Change Act (CCA) is based on science well over a decade old requiring only an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 despite the Government now aiming for net zero by 2050. The CCA only deals with one part of our total carbon footprint, emissions occurring within our territorial borders. It excludes our emissions from international aviation and shipping, and from the manufacture of the goods we import. Our carbon budgets (five yearly emissions reduction targets) are still based on this outdated legislation and hence far too easy to achieve. This gives a false confidence that we are doing well when in fact our emissions are falling far too slowly to avoid the worst of climate change. 

Answer

The Climate Change Act (CCA) was world-leading legislation in 2008, but is based on science well over a decade old and its ambition now falls short in two key areas:

1. It requires only an 80% cut in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when the Government now is aiming for a 100% reduction to reach net zero.

2. It doesn’t account for our emissions from international aviation and shipping, or from the manufacture of our imports, and these have been allowed to grow since 1990.

Yet the UK’s carbon budgets (it’s five yearly emissions reductions targets) are still based on this outdated legislation. The new 6th carbon budget effective from 2033 is now consistent with net zero by 2050 and does include aviation and shipping, but still excludes imports. However, 2033 is far ahead, and we need action now.

This means we are working to targets that are far too comfortable to set us on a path to meet the Government’s net zero by 2050 aim. This has helped us meet our first three carbon budgets with few changes in how we do things.

But more than this, the Climate Change Act contains nothing to link the action we are taking to what’s necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. It simply sets an emissions reduction target. UN scientists issued an entire report about why the 1.5°C limit is vitally important. In contrast, the CEE Bill expresses its aims in terms of the desired end result of limiting warming to 1.5°C, thereby ensuring that we keep up with the latest science, always doing what is necessary to stay on track.

Other areas in which the Climate Change Act is no longer sufficient are:

  1. It does not provide an adequate mechanism to deal with failure to meet targets. Even though the UK’s 4th and 5th carbon budget targets are far too weak, the Government’s own figures show that the UK will miss them by quite a margin.

From Carbon Brief

Under the CCA 2008, the Government must respond to the passage of a carbon budget by presenting to Parliament a strategy for meeting that budget, yet no specific deadline is required. The plan must be produced ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’. This means that there is a lack of urgency and the Government is not fully accountable. The CEE Bill, in contrast, will set annual legally-binding carbon budgets to ensure emissions reductions remain on track.

  1. The CCA 2008 contains nothing to prohibit reliance on unproven negative emissions technologies that are not proven effective at scale. Our current Net Zero by 2050 legislation contains an assumption that we will compensate for higher emissions now by removing CO2 later. But we have no idea if this will be possible. If it isn’t, it will be too late. We will already have emitted too much CO2 and will miss our targets. The CEE Bill prohibits such reckless reliance on these technologies other than in exceptional circumstances.
  2. The 2016 Paris Agreement established the principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘respective capabilities’.  These are that developed nations with far more responsibility for atmospheric carbon pollution must go further and faster to decarbonise, and must provide financial and technological support to poorer nations to help them transition away from fossil fuels. As the CCA 2008 pre-dates Paris, these principles have not been set into UK law. It is unsurprising then that our Net Zero by 2050 legislation is not compliant with them, which means we are breaking our commitment to this international agreement. The CEE Bill would incorporate these principles into UK law, helping ensure that we play our part and set an example for the world.