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UK climate action ‘lagging behind’

Words: Laura Edgar
London / iStock-507581562

The UK Government must demonstrate that it is serious about meeting its legal obligations to tackle and prepare for climate change, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Action to curb greenhouse gas emission is “lagging far behind” what is required to meet the previous target, let alone for the target for the UK to be producing net-zero emissions by 2050.

Lord Deben, chairman of the committee, 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.”

According to the committee’s Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament report, the government has delivered on just one of the 25 critical policies needed to get back on track to deliver a reduction in emissions.

Reducing UK Emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament recommends that a net-zero policy is embedded across all levels and departments of the government. Strong leadership should be central to this. The new prime minister will need to lead the UK’s zero-carbon transition from day one in office, as well as work closely with the first ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Government policies to reduce UK emissions to net zero should be business-friendly: they should provide clear and stable direction and a simple, investable set of rules and incentives that leave room for businesses to innovate and find the most effective means of switching to low-carbon technologies, the committee advises.

The report also recommends:

  • 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 to an 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.

A second report by the committee, also published today, Progress in Preparing for Climate Change – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament, it says action to prepare homes, businesses and natural environment for a world that is getting warmer is “less ambitious” than 10 years ago. The committee assessed 33 key sectors and found that none have made good progress to manage the risks associated with climate change.

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.”


Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, acknowledged that the government has “failed dismally" to back up its rhetoric with ambitious policies that deliver the cuts in emissions the UK needs to achieve.

“Getting to net-zero will require action across all parts of government and our economy. Yet, in areas such as electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy, we have seen the government has been too lacking in the ambition and political will to deliver the concrete policies necessary to make an impact. The costs of inaction, for our economy, for our environment, and for our health, are too great for the UK Government to lag behind. The government needs to get the UK back on track and come forward with the policies, actions and regulations needed to achieve the more ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050."

The committee will question the BEIS minister Chris Skidmore on Tuesday 16 July on how the government plans to meet its legal obligations on climate change.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Emma Pinchbeck said: “Just last month the UK set a world-leading climate target but there is now a void between our ambition and policies to actually meet it. Progress is slowing down due to government inaction. Deciding you want to win Wimbledon is great - but at some point you have to pick up the racket.

“The CCC advises that we should be supporting even more proven technologies like renewables, energy efficiency and EVs. Government should remove their barriers to cheap onshore wind and invest in innovation: floating wind, marine renewables and energy storage are vital to global decarbonisation.

“Our offshore wind success shows that investing in green technologies in the UK pays dividends - not just for carbon reduction, but for British industry - the CCC says we should be repeating that success in other technologies, because the clock is ticking on climate change”.

Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament can be found here on the CCC website.

Progress in preparing for climate change – 2019 Progress Report can be found here on the CCC website.

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