The Climate Change Act and UK regulations

Climate Change Act

The Government has taken a number of steps to limit the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases through legally binding targets, both now and in the future. The UK has been signed up to the Kyoto Protocol since 1995.

 The Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 and established a framework to develop an economically credible emissions reduction path. It also strengthened the UK’s leadership internationally by highlighting the role it would take in contributing to urgent collective action to tackle climate change under the Kyoto Protocol.


The Climate Change Act includes the following:

  •  2050 Target. The act commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels. This target was based on advice from the CCC report: Building a Low-carbon Economy. The 80% target includes GHG emissions from the devolved administrations, which currently accounts for around 20% of the UK’s total emissions.
  • Carbon Budgets. The Act requires the Government to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over a five-year period. The Committee provides advice on the appropriate level of each carbon budget which are designed to reflect cost effective path to achieving the long terms objectives. The first four carbon budgets have been put into legislation and run up to 2027.
  • The Committee on Climate Change was set up to advise the Government on emissions targets, and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It includes the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) which scrutinises and advises on the Government’s programme for adapting to climate change.
  • A National Adaptation Plan requires the Government to assess the UK’s risks from climate change, prepare a strategy to address them, and encourage critical organisations to do the same. For more detail, visit the UK adaptation policy page.

UK Government and Climate Change

Preventing dangerous climate change, and preparing for it, touches on all aspects of the economy. Therefore many government departments provide input into climate change policies. The two key government departments charged with setting climate policy are:

  • Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) leads on the UK’s policy to reduce emissions. It is responsible for delivering secure energy and driving ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad. For up-to-date information about current policies in the UK for tackling climate change see the DECC website.
  • Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) leads on the UK’s domestic adaptation policy. It is responsible for developing a National Adaptation Programme to address the risks set out in the first Climate Change Risk Assessment. Government is working with business, Local Government, civil society and public sector organisations to develop this programme. See Defra website for more information.

Devolved Administrations

The governments in the devolved administrations (DAs) also have a role to play in developing climate change policy in devolved policy areas and helping to implement UK-level policies. In addition to being covered by the UK Climate Change Act, the DAs are taking forward their own climate change policies;

  • The Climate Change (Scotland) Act was passed in 2009, committing Scotland to a 42% reduction in emissions by 2020 and annual reductions between 2010 and 2050.
  • Following advice from the Committee, Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister is developing plans for a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act
  • The Committee recently provided advice to the Welsh Government on potential options for climate change legislation.


See the CCC’s latest progress reports in our publication section for our views on current government policies designed to reduce climate change.