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Evidence-led climate policy and robust climate governance are key to delivering the Paris Agreement

By Professor Corinne Le Quéré, CCC Committee Member

It’s now just twelve months until the UN COP26 climate summit kicks off in Glasgow. Ahead of that pivotal conference global momentum is building for a renewed sense of urgency to address climate change. Governments and organisations around the world are now making ambitious commitments to reach Net Zero emissions – with China, Japan and South Korea the most recent high-profile examples. These are welcome pledges, and they have the potential to become turning points in the race to avoid catastrophic global warming. But they are still just that: pledges. To be realised they must be backed up by concerted, tangible action over the coming decades, which requires effective climate policies backed by robust governance.

In a study that I led in 2019, my colleagues and I showed that 18 countries were notably decreasing their emissions while their economies grew, both in terms of territorial and consumption emissions [1]. We found that countries that had the most climate and energy policies in place were the same countries where emissions had decreased the most. Professor Sam Fankhauser and his colleague Dr Shaikh Eskander’s research also shows that globally there are now over 1,800 climate policies in place, with at least one climate policy in every single country. Taken together, those policies have avoided over 5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide, effectively flattening the growth in global CO2 [2]. That is real progress.

Not all policies are equal, though. Which policies are applied, when, and to what anticipated effect needs detailed scrutiny to make sure efforts are well-spent, and decreases in emissions are delivered both rapidly and in the long-term. The task of identifying effective policies and measures must be evidence-led and underpinned by robust analysis of the opportunities and costs of the many different options.

That is why the role of an independent climate advisory body is so important in helping to de-politicise climate policy whilst scrutinising the government of the day. The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) is the longest-standing of all such bodies. Established by the UK Climate Change Act in 2008, the CCC’s job is to advise the UK Government on what it needs to do to address climate change whilst holding it accountable for what has or hasn’t been done.

The UK was the first G20 nation to legislate to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050 and whilst progress has been made in reducing emissions whilst growing the economy, there is much more work to do. Decarbonising key sectors such as transport, land use and industry is still a challenge, and there is still a huge amount of work to do to improve resilience to and prepare for the impacts of climate change: adaptation. The CCC advised the UK Government on setting the Net Zero target in a landmark report in 2019. It continues to provide evidence-led and analytically detailed advice for Government to set out the policy choices and trade-offs necessary to deliver the legal commitments under the Climate Change Act. In this role, the CCC has become widely respected for the quality and integrity of its work – across the political spectrum, by business sectors and around the world, where it has inspired the creation of other similar bodies.

As well as sitting on the CCC, I chair the French High Council on Climate (HCC); an independent advisory committee which was established in 2018. Like the UK’s CCC, the French HCC is a body comprised of independent experts established by law. The HCC’s role is to monitor progress in France’s climate response and advise the Government on policy choices and measures, whilst considering their socio-economic and environmental impacts. The HCC is also tasked with shedding light on the climate change debate in France in a neutral way. Nearly two years on, the HCC has greatly helped to focus discussions and debates on climate change in France, to expand actions across Government and more firmly engage all sectors in the transition towards a Net Zero economy. This is just the beginning, though, as France soon needs to triple the rate at which it decreases its emissions. The HCC will help to ensure that actions are well-informed, with clear policy choices that deliver on France’s climate objectives.

There are an increasing number of countries setting up climate frameworks supported by independent advisory councils (including New Zealand, Sweden, France, Germany, Mexico, Denmark), and the body of shared experience is growing. Together, these insights provide evidence for the development of effective climate policy worldwide. This is badly needed if we’re to achieve our common objective of limiting climate change to the lowest possible level, as set out in the Paris Agreement and endorsed by 196 nations.

That is why I’m delighted to share this set of eight new ‘Insights’ briefings prepared by the UK Climate Change Committee, drawing on its own experience in advising the UK Government on efforts to address climate change over the past 12 years. These briefings are intended to provide a practical overview of the workings of the CCC and the UK Climate Change Act as an effective model for translating climate ambition into tangible action on reducing emissions and adaptation. Our hope is that they will provide a useful resource for colleagues around the world who are considering how to deliver objective, evidence-based climate policy.

[1] Drivers of declining CO2 emissions in 18 developed economies (2019)
[2] Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from national climate legislation (2020)