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From ambition to real world delivery: UK climate change progress
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that UK climate change policy development needs to accelerate

The UK’s CCC published its latest progress report to Parliament in June, warning that without a much bigger effort, global temperatures will rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the early 2030s.

The Committee’s primary concern is that while ambitious long-term targets have been set, and a strong statutory framework put in place, many of the policy steps required to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 have not yet been formulated. The country is not adequately prepared to adapt to climate change, nor is there yet a coherent plan to reduce emissions sufficiently over the next decade, it says.

Adaptation versus emissions reductions

The aim of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2.0°C, but this still implies there will be some atmospheric warming, leading to significant changes in weather patterns, for example, increased risk of flooding, forest fires and fresh water scarcity.

In its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the International Panel on Climate Change describes what these impacts are likely to be, both for a 1.5°C and 2.0°C increase in global temperatures. As a result, addressing climate change has two closely interconnected policy requirements; measures to adapt to rising temperatures and measures to minimise that increase.

The committee’s warning is particularly severe with regard to climate change adaptation: “The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago,” it writes.

The CCC outlines 34 priority areas and says that strong progress is not being demonstrated in any. Just as the UK needs measurable targets for emissions reductions, it also needs a clear strategy on adaptation, it warns. Investment now in emissions reductions will reduce both the risks and the costs of adaptation, according to the report.

Policy gap

In terms of emissions reductions, the committee’s chief concern is the gap between targets and policy development. It says the next decade is critical in getting the UK on to a net zero carbon pathway for 2050. It wants the pace of policy development to accelerate, highlighting that while major progress has been made in power sector decarbonisation, other sectors, such as transport, buildings and agriculture, lag behind.

It says policies need to be in place by the end of the current parliament to ensure that almost all investments and purchases are low carbon by the end of the decade or soon after. The report welcomed the UK’s adoption of its Sixth Carbon Budget, but says that “credible policies for delivery currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions to meet the budget.”

In some areas, the UK is on track. The report highlights the government’s 40 GW by 2030 target for offshore wind and plans to end new sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. However, in many other areas, it sees either a lack of policy compared with stated ambitions, or policies which do not go far enough to align with a net zero carbon pathway.

Policy coordination

The path to net zero “requires high ambition and an effective policy framework in all areas,” the report says. Rather than relying solely on the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy, policy must be coordinated across government, most notably with regard to transition funding, both for adaptation measures and emissions reductions, the CCC writes.

The Committee’s policy recommendations cove a wide range of policy areas, both national and international, including adoption of a ‘net zero test’ to ensure that all government decisions are compatible with legislated emissions targets.

Photo credit: fokke baarssen,

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