Following a public consultation on the UK government’s draft Climate Change Bill earlier this year (see our briefing Environment: proposed UK climate change bill April 2007), an amended bill has now been introduced into parliament with a view to it becoming law early next year.

The key component of the Climate Change Bill (the Bill) is unchanged: the government has opted to retain the target of achieving a 60 per cent reduction in UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions against the 1990 base line by 2050. It has, however, committed to review the target in light of advice by the Committee on Climate Change (the Committee), the new independent committee established by the Bill to advise the government on this issue. The Bill was published immediately in advance of the start of international discussions under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss a roadmap to agreeing a potential successor for the Kyoto Protocol, the existing international commitment to reduce GHG emissions in the period 2008 to 2012.

Key provisions of the Bill

The key provisions of the Bill are as follows. 

  • The setting of statutory targets for the reduction of UK carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of between 26 per cent and 32 per cent by 2020 and 60 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels.

In September the prime minister announced that the government would consider whether the 2050 target should be further strengthened. A command paper on the government’s response to the pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation of the Bill confirms this commitment, specifically that the government will ask the Committee to report on this by autumn 2009, together with the implications of including other GHGs in addition to CO2 and the implications of including international aviation and shipping emissions in the UK targets. If the government decides to strengthen the target, the figure would be amended through secondary legislation, which would be likely to be adopted at some point during 2010. 

  • The adoption of five yearly carbon budgets setting limits on UK CO2 emissions during the budget period with a view to meeting the statutory targets.

Post 2022 the budgets would be made up to 15 years in advance to provide industry with some notice enabling them to plan for the necessary investment in technology to move towards a low carbon economy. Various environmental pressure groups had been pushing for three yearly carbon budgets on the basis that this would avoid the possibility of spanning more than one government’s term in office and different political parties failing to take responsibility should the budget not be met.

  • The establishment of a new independent Committee to advise the government on setting the carbon budgets and emissions reduction targets.

Responding to consultation feedback, the Bill now requires the Committee to publish its analysis and advice to government on setting budgets and the minutes of its meetings. Its role is also enhanced from the consultation draft – the government is now required to seek its advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets, before introducing the first set of regulations on the use of carbon credits to meet its targets and before establishing any trading scheme. 

  • The imposition of government accountability for failure to accept the Committee’s advice or to meet a budget or target.

Following concerns expressed during the consultation, the Bill now requires the government to respond to the Committee’s annual report on progress towards meeting the carbon budgets or the 2050 target.

  • Providing enabling powers to allow the government to introduce new emissions trading schemes, to improve the operation of the renewable transport fuel obligation and to enable five local authorities to introduce pilot schemes for household waste minimisation and recycling. The government has already indicated that it will introduce the Carbon Reduction Commitment, a mandatory cap and trade scheme covering energy use emissions from large non-energy intensive organisations such as supermarkets and other retailers, large offices and banks.
  • Monitoring and reporting arrangements requiring annual open and transparent reporting to parliament ensuring the government is held to account every year on its progress towards each five yearly carbon budget and the 2020 and 2050 targets. In addition, the government must report at least every five years on current and predicted effects of climate change and on its programme of action for adaptation to it.

Comment

The Bill is part of a package of intended action by the UK government to move to a low carbon economy. The government has also since introduced its Planning Bill into parliament, designed to speed up the handling of planning applications for major infrastructure projects including the new power stations that will be required to deliver the UK’s long-term energy needs, and is shortly to introduce an Energy Bill, which will enable the introduction of carbon capture and storage technology and establish new regulatory frameworks for renewables. Should the government decide that it is in the public interest to do so, it will also establish the nuclear new-build programme within the UK.