UK regulations: the Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Act (2008) is part of the government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It established the framework to develop a targeted and economically-credible plan to reduce current and future emissions.

The act highlights the UK’s commitment to urgent international action to tackle climate change.

How the Climate Change Act affects UK policy

Through the Climate Change Act, the government has set targets and created several groups and programmes to work on limiting and adapting to climate change.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

The CCC was set up to:

The committee includes the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), which scrutinises and advises on the government’s programme for adapting to climate change.

2050 target

The Climate Change Act commits the government to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This includes reducing emissions from the devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), which currently account for about 20% of the UK’s emissions.

This target was based on advice from the CCC’s 2008 report, ‘Building a low-carbon economy’.

Carbon Budgets

The Climate Change 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 CCC advises on the appropriate level of each carbon budget. The budgets are designed to reflect a cost-effective way of achieving the UK’s long-term climate objectives.

The first five carbon budgets have been put into legislation and will run up to 2032.

The national adaptation programme

Through the Climate Change Act, the government created the national adaptation programme to:

  • assess the risks to the UK from climate change
  • prepare a strategy to address them
  • encourage key organisations to do the same

Read more about the government policy on adapting to climate change.

The Infrastructure Act 2015

Under the Infrastructure Act 2015, the CCC has a duty to advise the government on the implications of exploiting onshore petroleum, including shale gas, for meeting UK carbon budgets. The CCC provided advice on onshore petroleum in 2016.

Who is responsible for climate change policies

Preventing dangerous climate change, and preparing for it, touches on all aspects of the economy. Therefore several government departments provide input into climate change policies.

The two main government departments responsible are:

BEIS is responsible for ensuring secure energy and promoting action on climate change in the UK and internationally.

Defra is responsible for developing a national adaptation programme to address the risks set out in the most recent UK climate change risk assessment (2017).

Devolved Administrations

The governments and assemblies of the devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland):

  • create climate change policy for their devolved area
  • help to implement UK-wide policies

As well as being covered by the Climate Change Act, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own climate change policies. For example:

  • the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 commits Scotland to a 42% reduction in emissions by 2020 and annual reductions between 2010 and 2050
  • the Northern Ireland Assembly is developing plans for a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act, following advice from the CCC
  • the Welsh government is considering how to set its own carbon budgets

Search ‘carbon budgets’ in publications to see our views on current government climate change policies.