The Climate Change Act in the United Kingdom

Fact-Sheet-Climate-Change-Act-UK - cover - adelphi
Hölscher, Linda 2018: The Climate Change Act in the United Kingdom. Berlin: adelphi/Ecofys.

The United Kingdom has long been a forerunner in ambitious policy to tackle climate change. Its Climate Change Act (CCA), adopted in 2008, is one of the first comprehensive climate change laws and is generally seen as a ground-breaking piece of environmental legislation as a comprehensive framework of institutions, procedures and accountability mechanisms. Its main features are an emission reduction target of 80 percent in 2050, five-yearly carbon budgets, the establishment of an independent advisory body and planning and reporting obligations aimed at improving government action.

The CCA is a climate change law with a strict focus on setting specific emission targets. As the pathways how to achieve those targets are not defined, the framework leaves certain flexibility to the policy maker. The UK has achieved significant emission reduction since adoption of the CCA, so far complying with all the primary obligations it has established. One of its main achievements is that the CCA successfully anchored the climate change discourse to the institutional and political landscape.

On examining potential transferability of this climate policy instrument to the German context, the cross-party consensus and ambition for meaningful legislation on climate change which enabled the adoption of the CCA in the UK is currently not present to a comparable extent in Germany. Especially designing carbon budgets with a very long lead time will prove difficult due to the much shorter time horizon for climate action in Germany. However, mainly based on its political and institutional impacts, a transfer of a CCA model for climate change legislation can be recommended for Germany.

The present study forms part of a series of publications within the project “Bridging European and Local Climate Action (BEACON)”. As part of this project, scientific analyses were conducted of national policy instruments that successfully led to greenhouse gas emission reductions in European countries in the building, transport, agriculture and small-industry sectors. The analyses particularly focused on the instruments’ effectiveness and their potential transferability to the German context.

Further publications in this series