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UK credibility on climate change rests on Government action over next 18 months

The UK has legislated for net-zero emissions by 2050 – now the UK Government must show it is serious about its legal obligations to tackle and prepare for climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today in two new reports on reducing emissions and preparing for climate change impacts.

UK action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets. Over the past year, the Government has delivered just 1 of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track.

Meanwhile, action to prepare our homes, businesses and natural environment for a warming world is less ambitious than it was ten years ago. Of 33 key sectors assessed by the Committee, none show good progress when it comes to managing climate change risk.

Lord Deben, CCC Chairman, said: “The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition. But international ambition does not deliver domestic action. It’s time for the Government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by Government now.”

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said: “The UK is not ready for the impacts of climate change, even at the minimum expected level of global warming. The Government is not yet addressing adequately all of the climate risks it has itself identified as critical – including from surface water flooding and the impacts of high temperatures on health. As the UK prepares to host next year’s global climate summit, the Government has a window to demonstrate its commitment to addressing these responsibilities. Citizens, homes, workplaces and critical infrastructure must be prepared for a future with unavoidable climate impacts. The effects of climate change are already being felt in the UK.”

In order to meet the UK’s legally-binding emissions targets, the Committee’s 2019 Progress Report to Parliament recommends that:

  • Net-zero policy is embedded across all levels and departments of Government, with strong leadership at the centre. The new Prime Minister will need to lead the UK’s zero-carbon transition from day one, working closely with First Ministers in Wales and Scotland and in Northern Ireland, once appointed.
  • Government policies to reduce UK emissions to net zero are business-friendly. Policy should provide clear and stable direction and a simple, investable set of rules and incentives which leave room for businesses to innovate and find the most effective means of switching to low-carbon technologies.
  • The public must be fully engaged in the UK’s net-zero transition. Over half of the emissions cuts required to reach net zero require people to do things differently. Policy and low-carbon products should be designed around individuals’ needs.
  • The UK strongly leads international action to tackle climate change. The UK should use its new net-zero target, and potential position as host of COP26, to encourage increased effort to reduce emissions worldwide, including pushing for the adoption of similar world-leading targets by other developed countries in the EU and beyond.

The Committee’s report shows that Government plans to deal with climate change impacts are insufficient in critical areas such as the natural environment, health, and business. Key opportunities need to be seized over the next 12 months. The Government should:

  • Reward farmers who are working to improve the natural environment. The Agriculture Bill will lead to a new payment system for farmers after the UK leaves the EU. It must support soil and water conservation, habitat protection and natural flood management. The draft Environment Bill also needs to set a framework for environmental targets that take climate change into account.
  • Take steps to protect people from the dangerous effects of overheating in homes, schools, care homes and hospitals, including through the current review of Building Regulations.
  • Require businesses to disclose the financial risks they face from climate change impacts, including those overseas, and ensure businesses plan properly for risks as well as opportunities for new goods and services. This could include a one-stop shop ‘advice service’ for small businesses.
  • Take positive steps to reduce water consumption. Setting an ambitious water consumption target to reduce the average person’s consumption from 140 litres to 100 litres per day is on the Government’s agenda. Achieving it will require new measures to help people use water more efficiently.
  • Implement the Environment Agency’s proposed Flood Strategy, including the need for flexible approaches to manage flooding in different parts of the country, natural flood management measures like tree planting, and increased property-level flood protection – around 9,000 properties need to be fitted with protection per year, up from 500 currently.

There are many co-benefits of taking action to adapt to the impacts of climate change whilst reducing the UK’s emissions to net zero. These include improvements to physical and mental health through increased green infrastructure, resilient homes with excellent indoor environmental quality, less noise thanks to quieter vehicles; more cycling and walking; and healthier diets.