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 UK 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, and more recently as part of the UN-led Paris Agreement.


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’s 2008 report: Building a low-carbon economy. The 80% target includes greenhouse gas emissions from the devolved administrations, which currently account 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. The carbon budgets are designed to reflect the cost-effective path to achieving the UK’s long-term objectives. The first five carbon budgets have been put into legislation and run up to 2032.
  • 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.
  • The National Adaptation Programme requires the Government to assess the risks to the UK from climate change, prepare a strategy to address them, and encourage key 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. For this reason, a wide array of government departments provide input into climate change policies. The two key government departments charged with setting climate policy are:

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) 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 BEIS section of the 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 most recent UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (2017). Government is working with business, Local Government, civil society and public sector organisations to develop this programme. See the Defra website for more information.

Devolved Administrations

The governments and assemblies of 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 have 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 is developing plans for a Northern Ireland Climate Change Act.
  • The Committee will shortly provide new advice to the Welsh Government on potential options for Welsh carbon budgets.

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