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UK Climate Change Act and Legislation Overview

by Suleman


Climate change impacts public wellbeing and forces the vulnerable to experience inequality. The preservation of human existence and integrity is mandated by universal traditions. In the background of disadvantaged citizens and others in the most marginalised classes, this is extremely relevant. The industrialised and developed nations are the chief perpetrators of harm to the environment and are the principal contributors to global climatic change. They are responsible for the high emissions of dangerous gases into the atmosphere (Scotland can lead the world by fighting climate change to help the poor, 2009).

In order to reduce and stabilise the global warming problem, the industrialised countries must reduce their carbon and other GHG emissions by a minimum of 40% of the present rate of emissions, by the year 2020. As part of this commitment, Scotland has enacted the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill. By enacting this Bill, Scotland has firmly proved its willingness to fight against global emissions of carbon dioxide and GHGs. This legislation has been a crucial legislation for Scotland, and it requires the Members of the Parliament to comply with the provisions of the Bill (Scotland can lead the world by fighting climate change to help the poor, 2009).

UK Climate Change Act and Legislation Overview

On 26 November 2008, the UK Climate Change Act had received Royal Assent. The Governments of Scotland, the UK, and the Developed Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have been jointly working to achieve the standards specified by this Act. The latter has directed that GHG emissions are to be reduced by 80% by the year 2050 (Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act, 2009).

 It has introduced carbon budgets, which are five – year plans, in order to reduce emissions gradually. The final aim of these five year carbon budgets is the total elimination of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The application of most of the provisions of the Climate Change Act were extended to Scotland through the December 2007 Scottish Parliament’s agreement to a Legislative Consent Motion (Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act, 2009).

            The Royal Assent enabled the Climate Change Act 2008 to establish a Committee on Climate Change. This Committee published its first report on 1 December 2008, which has been termed the “Building a low – carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change”. Through this report, the Committee made several recommendations to the Government, with regard to preparing carbon budgets for the five-year periods of 2008 – 12, 2013-17, and 2018-22 (Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act, 2009).

Climate Change Act, UK

This Act stands to transform the UK as the main contender in the fight against climate change. The UK stands to gain substantially, in economic terms, by implementing a low carbon economy. The Act has four very important traits. First, it makes it a statutory requirement for the government to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60%, as of the year 2050. This is a long term goal that the government can easily achieve (Press Release: Climate Change Legislation, 2006).

Second, the Act is to establish the Carbon Committee to assist the Government in achieving this objective. This Committee will provide valuable suggestions and advice to the Government. It will provide equitable and transparent advice to the government. Third, the Act will implement innovative measures to reduce carbon emissions and meet the targets. Fourth, the Government will be required to submit periodical reports on the progress made to Parliament. These reports will detail the systems and other arrangements adopted by the government to meet the prescribed goals (Press Release: Climate Change Legislation, 2006).

The Climate Change Act 2008 is crucial legislation. It enables the UK to fight against climate change effectively. This Act requires the government to prepare five year plans to assess the potential risks of climate change throughout the UK. The government is required to implement nationwide adaptation programmes and to review their effectiveness periodically. The objective of such reviews will be to address the most urgent dangers to the UK, on account of climate change (How will the Act help adaptation?, 2008).

Moreover, this Act empowers the government to review the role of public authorities and statutory undertakings, such as water and energy utilities, in evaluating the danger caused by climate change to their activities, and the measures adopted by them to address these threats. The government can require the authorities to provide details about the actions and initiatives taken by them, in order to reduce the risks posed by climate change. This Act requires the government to submit its report in response to the power granted by it, and how the latter is going to implement its new power (How will the Act help adaptation?, 2008).

The UK Government is of the opinion that had it enacted the Climate Change Act 2008, much earlier, the global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide would have assumed invariable levels that were as low as 450 parts per million. It has been assumed by the UK Government that it can pressurise the other nations of the world, to enact statutes to reduce carbon emissions in their jurisdiction (Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act , 2009).

The fact remains that such legislation is essential for the protection of the environment; as it reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and diminishes to a great extent the other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In such an environment, the damage costs per tonne of carbon dioxide would be lower than what they would be in the absence of emission controlling legislation. The government did not explain the reason behind its change of approach, while estimating the benefits accruing from the Climate Change Act 2008 (Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act , 2009).

Key Provisions of the Climate Change Act

            The Climate Change Act establishes legally binding targets for reducing the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. It has categorically specified that by the year 2050 the emissions of these gases have to be reduced to less than 80% of the emission levels that had prevailed in the year 1990 (Climate Change Act 2008, 2008. Section 1). The enactment of this Act indicates the stance of the UK, with regard to implementing environmental policy globally (Farmer, 2009).

            The targets established by this Act are legally binding. Section 1 of the Act requires the Secretary of State to ensure the total UK emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are 80% less than the levels of CO2 that were present in the year 1990,  and the levels of greenhouse gases in 1995 (Farmer, 2009).

Establishing a System for Carbon Budgeting

            This Act establishes a system of carbon budgeting in order to meet the goals. Each carbon budget has to remain in force for a period of five years. The period from 2008 to 2012 will be the first carbon budget period. As such, the budget for the first period will have to be prepared before 1 June 2009. After having prepared the budget for any specific period, the government has to submit its report to the Parliament, wherein it has to stipulate the policies and proposals for achieving the budgetary targets. Furthermore, the government has to achieve, at least a 26% reduction, out of the required 80%, in emissions, by the year 2020 (Farmer, 2009).

Carbon Credits/Units

            Carbon credits are the points gained by the government for having reduced the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). They are granted on the removal of certain amount of GHG from the atmosphere. The units also represent the permitted levels of GHG emission under a scheme or prior arrangement. The units are instrumental for keeping track of reductions in GHG emission. They are of great assistance in preparing carbon budgets (Farmer, 2009).

This Act assesses the benefit derived; by estimating the extent of the damage caused before the enactment of the Act, and the amount of damage caused after implementation. In 2008, the UK Government made an estimation of this benefit, by calculating the damage caused per tonne of carbon. This evaluation was based on an estimated cost of 26 pounds per tonne of CO2. Subsequently, the UK Government admitted to having been mistaken in its assumption regarding the cost per tonne of CO2. Consequently, it adopted a different method of calculating the carbon costs for the situation, prior to the enactment of the Climate Change Act 2008 and subsequent to such enactment. For the former period, it set the cost of damage per ton of carbon dioxide at 75 pounds and for the latter period, the cost had been fixed at nearly 25 pounds (Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act , 2009).

The cost associated with realising the targets set for reducing emissions, by the year 2050, increased from 60% to 80%, during the passage of the Climate Change Act 2008 in the UK Parliament. The transition from fossil based fuels to non – fossil energy sources was expected to increase costs dramatically. Similarly, the requirements of energy conservation, and capturing and storing CO2 from power station entail the adoption of technologies that are relatively expensive. A major drawback with this exercise was that the expenditure to be incurred, in reducing the emissions of other greenhouse gasses had not been included in these target achievement assessments (Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act , 2009).   

         It also fails to take into consideration the cost involved in the migration of industries that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel sources, to the developing countries where the environmental laws and climate policies are lax or non – existent. Such moves would increase the costs associated with reducing emissions. The Climate Change Act 2008 attempts to assess the damage caused to the global environment by the emission of a tonne of carbon dioxide in the UK (Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act , 2009).

Committee on Climate Change

            The Climate Change Act established a Committee on Climate Change in December 2008, for the purpose of advising on the ways and means of achieving targets relating to carbon emission reduction. It will also provide suggestions for reducing GHG emissions, and supervises the preparation of the five year carbon budgets. It prepares and submits annual reports on the progress of the government, in meeting legitimate targets, preparation of carbon budgets to achieve those targets and provides recommendations for achieving the budgetary targets (Farmer, 2009).

Guidance on Reporting

            There are two important issues that apply to companies and industries, in this Act. First, the government is required to provide guidelines by 1 October 2009, regarding the manner in which companies have to submit reports on their GHG emissions (Farmer, 2009). Second, examination of the possibility that the government can issue regulations from time to time, under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006. Under these regulations, the government can provide guidelines to the directors of a company, to include data regarding the emissions of greenhouse gases in their reports (Companies Act 2006, 2006. Section 416(2)). The Climate Change Act requires the government to arrive at a decision, in this regard, on or before 6 April 2012 (Farmer, 2009).

Further Measures

            It also requires national authorities to prepare trading schemes for the emissions of greenhouse gases. Such schemes can be established as secondary legislation. Trading schemes must be aimed at limiting activities that result in the production of GHG emissions. In addition, these schemes must hinder any activity that can cause or contribute to the emissions of GHGs, either directly or indirectly. At the same time, these schemes must encourage activities that can effectively reduce GHG emissions. Trading schemes must encourage the use of alternative energy sources such as bio-fuels. In addition, they must provide financial incentives for reducing household waste, and penalise single use carrier bags (Farmer, 2009).

The government is also required to identify the priority organisations that are to be brought under the scope of the Act. It makes climate risk assessment and implements action plans to address the risks posed by climate change. The Act establishes an Adaptation Sub-Committee of the independent Committee on Climate Change. The Sub-Committee would supervise the progress made on the Adapting to Climate Change Programme. Moreover, it will provide advice on risk assessment plans (How will the Act help adaptation?, 2008).

Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

            The Scottish Climate Change Act requires the government to set targets, in respect of annual emission reductions. The objective of this requirement is to maintain the emission rate at fair and safe levels. This Act states that the fair and safe level is the amount of emissions that would prevent dangerous climate change (Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, 2009). At this juncture, it is important to note that annual cumulative emissions that result in more dangerous climate change, than the danger in any particular year (Stop Climate Chaos Scotland).

            Furthermore, this Act requires Scotland to reduce emissions through a fair budget. This requirement gives credence to the fact that it is the bounden duty of the wealthy nations, like Scotland, to make greater monetary sacrifices than the developing nations. The poor and developing countries are facing the dangerous effects of climate change. Such harm to the environment had been caused by the developed countries, but the greatest effect is on the developing nations (Stop Climate Chaos Scotland).

In addition, the Scottish Act declares that the major pollutants are the developed and wealthy nations. Therefore, they should assume responsibility for the harm caused to the environment, and they have to implement measures to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases. Scotland has its own emission reducing targets, which are not dependent on the targets of the other countries (Stop Climate Chaos Scotland). This is a rare and welcome feature. It is up to the rest of the developed world to adopt measures that are equivalent to the exemplary measures adopted in Scotland.

The Scottish Government and other Developed Administrations were required to submit their proposals and considerations to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change before February 2009. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will take into consideration the views of the former and take a decision on budgetary allocations, sometime in the month of March 2009. Scotland’s emissions differ from those of the other parts of the UK (Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act, 2009).

Moreover, the methods to be employed by Scotland will also differ from the rest of the UK. Scotland makes use of renewable energy on a large scale and it has considerable potential in this area, especially with regard to marine and wind energy. It has shown great concern towards the problems associated with climate change and has employed suitable policies to counter them (Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act, 2009).

The Legal Sector Alliance (LSA), a group of 18 city firms, is striving hard to protect the environment. It has submitted a message to the heads of the G20 nations calling their attention towards climate change legislations at the global level. The LSA had prepared and submitted its proposals to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. It requires the G20 to establish climate change legislation at the domestic and international levels. It states that such legislations are very important in the fight against global climate change (Rothwell, 3 September 2009).


The enactment of the Climate Change Act has been a major step towards preventing climate change and its adverse effects. The Scottish Government is jointly working with the Government of the United Kingdome in this area. Their combined goal is to establish a statutory target for the UK as a whole. These targets are set to reduce the emissions of CO2 by at least 60% by the year 2050.

            The Scottish Government, of its own accord, cannot reduce carbon emissions or fight against climate change. However, the UK has the potential and capability to develop effective policies and measures in this area. It has the ability to provide expert analysis to the Scottish Government. These factors induced the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government, to fight more effectively against climate change.

Association with the UK is certain to provide additional benefits to the Scottish Government, such as the sharing of expertise and resources. This will enable Scotland to achieve statutory targets. The UK has set ambitious statutory limits for the emissions of carbon dioxide. It has the necessary technology to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuel energy.

The helpless poor and developing nations are experiencing the devastating effects of climate change and environmental damage, which is the result of the activities of the developed countries. The worst affected groups and communities, on account of climate change are the poor of the world. However, the combined efforts of the UK and Scotland have had a significant impact on the protection of the environment.

List of References:
  • Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. (2009, August 4). Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 2009 asp 12 . London, United Kingdom: Office of Public Sector Information.
  • Climate Change Act 2008. (2008, November 26). Climate Change Act 2008. Chapter 27 . London, United Kingdom: Office of Public Sector Information.
  • Companies Act 2006. (2006). Companies Act 2006. Chapter 46 . London, United Kingdom: Office of Public Sector Information.
  • Farmer, B. (2009, January 9). United Kingdom: Climate Change Act 2008: Key Points. Mondaq Business Briefing . London, United Kingdom: Mondaq Ltd.
  • How will the Act help adaptation? (2008, November 27). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climate/legislation/adaptation.htm
  • Press Release: Climate Change Legislation. (2006, October 31). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from UK Regulatory Materials Summaries: http://www.gnn.gov.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=238259&NewsAreaID=2
  • Relationship with the UK Climate Change Act. (2009, January 15). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/climatechange/scotlands-action/ScottishBill/Proposals-Timescales
  • Rising costs and benefits of Climate Change Act . (2009, June). Environmental Data Services Report , pp. Issue 413, p. 12.
  • Rothwell, R. (3 September 2009). City: City firms push G20 on climate change. Law Society Gazette , Vol. 4, Issue 2.
  • Scotland can lead the world by fighting climate change to help the poor. (2009, June 23). The Herald (Glasgow) , p. 14.
  • Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2009, from How the Scottish Climate Change Act can make a difference in Copenhagen: http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/files/docs/SCCS-Act-Summary.pdf

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