Yesterday the Government unveiled its Climate Change Bill (the "Bill") as part of its efforts to create the world's first legal framework for transition to a low-carbon economy. The Bill comes in the wake of increasing international concern over climate change since the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the subsequent negotiation and coming into force of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said "With climate change we can't just close our eyes and cross our fingers. We need to step up our action to tackle it, building on our considerable progress so far. Government must rightly lead from the front on this, but we want everyone - the public, industry, Parliament - to have their say to help us ensure that the bill really delivers."

The Bill stresses that responsibility for a sustainable low carbon economy is shared by Government and the public sector as well as business, consumers and civil society alike. As such, the Bill contains five key provisions aimed at institutionalising this responsibility:

  • A statutory consolidation of the UK's emissions targets under domestic or international schemes is introduced to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050 and 26-32% by 2020, against a 1990 baseline.
  • New powers to enable the Government more easily to implement policies to cut emissions.
  • Five-year 'carbon budgets' will require the Government to set, in secondary legislation, binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions during five year budget periods, beginning with the period 2008-12. Three successive carbon budgets (representing 15 years) will always be in legislation, so allowing for long-term business planning.
  • Emissions reductions purchased overseas may be counted towards the UK’s targets. There is therefore potential for investing in low carbon technologies abroad as well as action within the UK to reduce the UK’s overall carbon footprint.
  • The Bill creates a new independent body - the Committee on Climate Change - to work with Government to reduce emissions over time and across the economy. The Committee on Climate Change will report annually to Parliament on the UK's progress towards achieving its targets and budgets. The Government will be required to lay before Parliament a response to this annual progress report. Every five years, the Committee’s report will contain an explicit review of the UK's performance over the last budget period, and the implications of this for keeping on track to meet future targets and budgets.

A strategy paper entitled Climate Change Strategic Framework published alongside the Bill sets out how the Bill fits into the Government's wider international strategy and a range of future domestic policies to achieve its aims. It argues that all sectors of society will have to contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy, but that this does not mean a reduction in standards of living. It sets out a vision for how the UK can move to a low carbon economy including:

  • Investment in low-carbon fuels and technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, wind, wave and solar power;
  • Significantly more efficient use of energy;
  • A step change in the way energy suppliers operate so that they focus on reducing demand rather than just supplying as much energy as possible; and
  • Consumers becoming producers as well as consumers of energy.

The Bill is subject to a full public consultation alongside pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament. The closing date for comments is 12 June 2007. Responses to the consultation on the draft bill should be sent to:

climatechangeconsultation@defra.gsi.gov.uk.