Government policy

Government Policy

The UK government has brought in a number of measures to mitigate the impact of climate change. Most significant is the Climate Change Act 2008 which introduces a long term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change.

In addition the EU has signed up to the target of 20 per cent of EU energy to come from renewable sources. To meet this target the government is developing a Renewable Energy Strategy which will be published in 2009.

Climate Change Act

Two key aims underpin the act:

To improve carbon management and help the transition towards a low carbon economy in the UK; and to demonstrate strong UK leadership internationally, signalling that we are committed to taking our share of responsibility for reducing global emissions in the context of developing negotiations.

Legally binding targets:

To achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions through action in the UK and abroad of at least 80 per cent by 2050 and reductions in Co2 emissions of at least 26 per cent by 2020 against a 1990 baseline.

As a key part of the long term legal framework set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 the Committee on Climate Change has been created as a new expert body to independently assess how the UK can optimally achieve its emissions reductions goals for 2020 and 2050.

Committee on Climate Change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is jointly sponsored by HM Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Nortthern Ireland Executive.

The committee is a high profile independent statutory non-departmental public body and plays a crucial part in the UK’s effort to tackle climate change.

The Climate Change Act states that the CCC will advise government:

  • On the level of each five year carbon budget, consistent wit the optimal trajectory towards the statutory 2050 and 2020 limits.
  • How much effort should be made in the UK and overseas; and how much effort should be made by the part of the economy covered by cap and trade schemes and by the rest of the economy.

Department of Energy and Climate Change

This is a newly created government department which brings together much of the Climate Change Group previously housed within the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Energy Group from the Department of Business and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

Recent history of climate change initiatives

Under the Kyoto Protocol the UK pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

In 2007, the European Union Heads of Government agreed a binding target to reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by at least 20 per cent by 2020 and to increase this commitment to a 30 per cent reduction as part of a wider international agreement

The UK Climate Change Programme (HM Government 2006) was designed to deliver progress towards international and domestic commitments on greenhouse gas emissions, with progress reported annually to Parliament.  The first progress report was published in July 2007 (Defra 2007b).  Amongst key developments as part of the programme are:

  • the establishment of The Office of Climate Change in October 2006 in order to co-ordinate climate change policy across Government .
  • the independent review of the economics of climate change, by Sir Nicholas Stern.
  • the Climate Change Bill 2007, which put in place a legally binding framework to enable the UK to meet and, if possible, exceed international obligations (see above). 
  • the Energy White Paper Meeting the Energy Challenge (DTI 2007), which set out the strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions arising from energy production and consumption while ensuring security of supply.  The package of policies in the White Paper could save between 84 and 121 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020.
  • the Adaptation Policy Framework which identified priority areas for adaptation and defined the roles and responsibilities of government departments in delivering action. 
  • a raft of initiatives launched in 2007 aimed at the energy efficiency of the built environment, particularly the housing sector, designed to implement the duty placed on the Secretary of State by the Housing Act 2004, to take reasonable steps to improve residential energy efficiency by at least 20 per cent by 2010 from a year 2000 baseline.  The most recent measures include the Code for Sustainable Homes, which sets new national voluntary standards, including on energy efficiency for the sustainable design and construction of new homes; the Zero Carbon Homes initiative which proposes a progressive tightening of energy efficiency standards in the Building Regulations, rising to a zero carbon target in 2016;  proposed changes to Permitted Development Rights for micro-generation to make it easier for householders to install micro-generation technologies; and a new Supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development (ODPM 2005), setting out how participants in the planning process should work towards reducing carbon emissions in the location, siting and design of new development.

Local authorities already have a series of targets to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock.  The Home Energy Conservation Act (1995) requires them to improve the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in their area, with Government recommending a target of a 30 per cent improvement by 2011.  The local government performance framework requires councils to use the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) to report on the average energy efficiency rating of the local authority-owned housing stock and the 2006 Local Government White Paper proposed they should report on the percentage annual reduction achieved in CO2 emissions in both the local authority estate and across the community.


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