To Hold The Government Accountable On Climate Change, We Need First To Understand it

Graphic by Aimée Lister

The environmental movement is awash with the sentiment that more needs to be done in order to mitigate against and adapt to the threats posed by global heating and other environmental issues. Government rhetoric on green issues has been consistently positive for the last 15 years with all the right things being said in terms of reductions of emissions and sustainable development. There are, however, two very important questions that we must ask our government. Are they being ambitious enough in their targets? And are they meeting those targets? The first can be answered by looking at the policies that they have enacted to see if they are align with how experts think that global heating can be combated, and the second by seeing if these policies are successful in their stated goals.

Media reports of anything governmental tend to focus on sound bites and one liners that are designed to draw out emotional responses from their audience, giving voters the feel-good factor that will lead to desirable approval ratings. However, catastrophic weather events and industrial pollution levels don’t tend to care much for vague feelings of confidence in politicians so it's important that we look past that and see exactly what action is being taken on Global Heating by the UK government; how effective these policies have been and are likely to be; and, what needs to be changed about the way the government is approaching these issues.

This series of articles will explore the legislation and political infrastructure surrounding global heating in the UK government. By way of an introduction some of the cornerstones of British climate policy outlined below.

Climate Change Act 2008

The climate change act forms the basis of the current climate change legislation in the UK today. It requires the government to set 5-year carbon budgets 12 years in advance until 2050, as well as to consider the advice of The Committee for Climate Change (CCC). An initial target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 was set, but this has since been updated by the Net Zero pledge (see below).

Carbon Budget Orders

The UK is the first country to set legally binding carbon budgets. These are laid out in Carbon Budget Orders which place restrictions on the total amount of greenhouse gases that the UK can emit over a 5-year period. The first three budgets spanning the period 2008-2022 were outperformed by 1%, 14%, and 3% respectively. Although, the 4th and 5th budgets are expected to be exceeded and the CCC has advised against outperformance being carried forwards to help meet later budgets.

The Paris Agreement

The aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep the global average temperature to well below a 2°C increase, and to pursue 1.5°C where possible. 181 nations have ratified the agreement, but notably Mr Trump has withdrawn the US from the agreement. The measures present in the agreement will apply from 2020, the details having been agreed at the COP24 conference in 2018.

Net Zero

In 2019 the UK government signed legislation to commit the UK to a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050, becoming the first major economy to pass such a law This is inline with IPCC recommendations on what is required to limit warming below 1.5°C. This means that by 2050 any emissions made in the UK must be balanced out by carbon credits created by buying the rights to carbon saving measures in other countries, or carbon capture technologies. The Net Zero review will be published in Autumn 2020. This will ensure that the burdens and benefits of decarbonisation are distributed fairly, and that the so-called offshoring of emissions does not occur where emissions reductions in the UK cause emissions to rise in other countries.

The Committee for Climate Change

The CCC was formed as a result of the 2008 Climate Change Act to advise the UK Government on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It plays a role in setting carbon budgets, as well as the Net Zero 2050 target.

Future articles will explore these facets of climate governance in more detail, and highlight the extent to which they are doing their job, or not, in working towards a positive environmental future. By explicitly highlighting tangible shortcomings in government action, as well as celebrating its successes and strengths, the movement can unite around specific actionable demands which will ensure the future planet is fit to host a fair and thriving society.

Written by the Louder than the Storm Political Lead, MacGregor Cox


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