The independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned that time is running out for realistic climate commitments as it released two progress reports.
In the reports, the CCC offers its appraisal of progress on the twin climate challenges of cutting emissions to net zero and adapting to the climate risks facing the UK.
The reports draw on the CCC’S comprehensive analysis of the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget and the recent third Climate Change Risk Assessment to present more than 200 climate policy recommendations, covering every part of government.
Established under the Climate Change Act 2008, the CCC praised the government for making historic climate promises in the past year, for which it says they deserves credit.
However, they also say that it has been too slow to follow these with delivery and that this defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay to a host of new climate strategies.
The CCC said those that have emerged have too often missed the mark, warning that with every month of inaction, it is harder for the UK to get on track.
They said the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but acknowledged that it has yet to be backed with firm policies, arguing the public has not been informed or engaged in the changes that must lie ahead.
It also argues that there is still a window to make comprehensive plans and demonstrate leadership at home and to a global audience.
However, it warns that the government is taking a high-stakes gamble to focus everything on a new Net Zero Strategy in the autumn to achieve that.
The CCC warns that it is absolutely critical that the new strategy is published before the COP26 climate summit, with clear policy plans, backed fully by the Treasury.
They said it must be accompanied by a commitment to prepare the country for the serious climate risks facing the UK, as the next cycle of adaptation planning begins.
Commenting, Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben said:
“We are in the decisive decade for tackling climate change. The government must get real on delivery. Global Britain has to prove that it can lead a global change in how we treat our planet.
“Get it right and UK action will echo widely. Continue to be slow and timid and the opportunity will slip from our hands. Between now and COP26 the world will look for delivery, not promises.”
Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown added: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation.
“We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious, more comprehensive and better focused on implementation than its predecessors to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Progress on net zero
Despite UK emissions falling to nearly 50% of their 1990 levels during the 2020 lockdown, the journey to net zero is far from half completed according to the CCC.
Emissions next year are expected to rebound and so far, lasting progress in reducing emissions has been narrowly based.
The relative success of decarbonising electricity must continue, but it must be matched with solid commitments to decarbonise buildings, transport, industry and agriculture, the CCC argues.
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020, down 13% from the previous year, with the largest falls in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%).
While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding.
HGV and van travel are back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, is only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.
The CCC argue that sustained reductions in emissions require sustained government leadership, underpinned by a strong Net Zero Strategy, saying the following is needed:
- A Net Zero Test would ensure that all government policy, including planning decisions, is compatible with UK climate targets.
- An ambitious Heat and Buildings Strategy, that works for consumers, is urgently needed.
- Delayed plans on surface transport, aviation, hydrogen, biomass and food must be delivered.
- Plans for the power sector, industrial decarbonisation, the North Sea, peat and energy from waste must be strengthened.
- The big cross-cutting challenges of public engagement, fair funding and local delivery must be tackled.
Progress on adaptation in England
The CCC warns that progress in adapting to climate change is not keeping up with the increasing risks facing the country.
Only five of 34 sectors assessed by the CCC have shown notable progress in the past two years and no sector is yet scoring highly in lowering its level of risk.
The National Adaptation Programme for England has not developed national preparedness for even a 2ºC rise in global temperature, let alone higher levels of warming that are possible by the end of the century, the CCC said.
As the reality of the changing climate becomes clear, so does the required response, the CCC urges.
They also said the government must show it has a positive vision for a well-adapted country, with policies and regulations to address all of the key risks set out in the Climate Change Risk Assessment.
They provided 50 recommendations, including:
- Restore 100% of upland peat by 2045, including through a ban on rotational burning.
- Bring forward proposed plans to address overheating risk in homes through Building Regulations.
- Make the government’s next round of the Adaptation Reporting mandatory for all infrastructure sectors.
- Build a strong emergency resilience capability for the UK against climate shocks, learning from the Covid-19 response.
- Implement a public engagement programme on climate change adaptation.
PSE will be hosting a Public Sector Decarbonisation event on 9 September. Join us for the full day event by registering here.