Government Legislation > The Climate Change Act 2008

The UK has passed legislation which introduces the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change. The Climate Change Bill was introduced into Parliament on 14 November 2007 and became law on 26th November 2008.

The Climate Change Act creates a new approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK, by setting ambitious, legally binding targets, taking powers to help meet those targets, strengthening the institutional framework, enhancing the UK’s ability to adapt to the impact of climate change, and establishing clear and regular accountability to the UK Parliament and to the devolved legislatures.

Two Key Aims Underpinning the Act:

  • To improve carbon management and help the transition towards a low-carbon economy in the UK;
  • To demonstrate UK leadership internationally, signalling that we are committed to taking our share of responsibility for reducing global emissions in the context of developing negotiations on a post-2012 global agreement at Copenhagen in December 2009.

Key Provisions

  • A legally binding target of at least an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to be achieved through action in the UK and abroad. Also a reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 26% by 2020. Both these targets are against a 1990 baseline. The 2020 target is currently being reviewed to reflect the move to all greenhouse gases, and the increase in the 2050 target to 80%.
  • A carbon budgeting system which caps emissions over five-year periods, with three budgets set at a time, to set out our trajectory to 2050. The first three carbon budgets will run from 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22, and must be set by 1 June this year. The Government must report to Parliament its policies and proposals to meet the budgets as soon as practical after that.
  • The creation of the Committee on Climate Change, a new independent, expert body to advise Government on the level of carbon budgets and where cost-effective savings can be made. The Committee will submit annual reports to Parliament on the UK’s progress towards targets and budgets. The Government must respond to these annual reports, thereby ensuring transparency and accountability on an annual basis.
  • International aviation and shipping emissions - the Government will include international aviation and shipping emissions in the Act or explain why not to Parliament by 31 December 2012. The Committee on Climate Change is required to advise the Government on the consequences of including emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Act’s targets and budgets. Projected emissions from international aviation and shipping must be taken into account in making decisions on carbon budgets.
  • Use of International credits - Government is required to “have regard to the need for UK domestic action on climate change” when considering how to meet the UK’s targets and carbon budgets. The independent Committee on Climate Change has a duty to advise on the appropriate balance between action at domestic, European and international level, for each carbon budget. The Government is required to set a limit on the purchase of credits for each budgetary period, by secondary legislation requiring debate in both Houses of Parliament, and taking into account the Committee’s advice.
  • Further measures to reduce emissions include powers to introduce domestic emissions trading schemes more quickly and easily through secondary legislation; measures on biofuels; powers to introduce pilot financial incentive schemes in England for household waste and powers to require a minimum charge for single-use carrier bags (excluding Scotland).
  • On adaptation the Government must report at least every five years on the risks to the UK of climate change, and publish a programme setting out how these impacts will be addressed. The Act also introduces powers for Government to require public bodies and statutory undertakers1 to carry out their own risk assessment and make plans to address those risks.
  • An Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, in order to provide advice to and scrutiny of the Government’s adaptation work.
  • A requirement for the Government to issue guidance by 1 October 2009 on the way companies should report their greenhouse gas emissions, and to review the contribution reporting could make to emissions reductions by 1 December 2010. Requirement also that the Government must, by 6 April 2012, use powers under the Companies Act to mandate reporting, or explain to Parliament why it has not done so.
  • New powers to support the creation of a Community Energy Savings Programme, as announced by the Prime Minister on 11 September 2008 (by extending the existing Carbon Emissions Reduction Target scheme to electricity generators).
  • New requirement for annual publication of a report on the efficiency and sustainability of the Government estate.

Timeline of Key events

  • 1 December 2008: Committee on Climate Change established as an independent body
  • December 1st 2008: Committee on Climate Change provides advice to Government on the level of the first three carbon budgets and its full review of the 2050 target
  • Spring 2009 Government to announce proposals for the level of the first three carbon budgets alongside the (fiscal) Budget 2009
  • 1 June 2009 deadline for Government to set the first three carbon budgets through secondary legislation agreed by both Houses of Parliament
  • Mid 2009 Government will publish policies and proposals to meet the first three carbon budgets

Read the full Climate Change Act document

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