International and UK Reports

Understanding Climate Change
and Sustainability
The inside story of the Paris climate agreement
Christiana Figueres
Global action on climate change

Greenhouse gas emissions have global consequences. Dealing with climate change therefore requires coordinated action by nations around the world.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was created in 1992 as the main forum for international action on climate change. Its overall aim is to:

“achieve… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

195 countries have joined the international agreement (known as a convention). Negotiations focus on four key areas:

  • mitigating (reducing) greenhouse gas emissions
  • adapting to climate change
  • reporting of national emissions
  • financing of climate action in developing countries
The Kyoto Protocol

UNFCCC negotiations led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol set a target for 37 industrialised countries to reduce their emissions by an average 5% below 1990 levels, for the period of 2008 to 2012. As part of this group the UK committed to a 12.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The targets were met successfully. Overall, the 37 countries reduced global emissions by over 10%. But this was not enough to offset the increasing emissions from other industrialising countries (such as China), meaning total global emissions grew over the period.

A second Kyoto commitment period has been agreed from 2013 to 2020. Fewer countries have signed the second commitment agreement, although the UK and the EU are participating.

The Paris Agreement

Continuing UNFCCC negotiations led to the Paris Agreement in December 2015.

The Paris Agreement is the first truly global effort to reduce emissions. To date, 160 UNFCCC parties have made voluntary pledges to reduce emissions up to 2030, including China, the US and the European Union (on behalf of the UK and other EU nations).

The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Overall, the current pledges would lead to lower global emissions compared to previous expectations. But further action will be required to keep warming to below 2°C or 1.5°C.

Recognising this gap in ambition, the Paris Agreement schedules a review of pledges in 2018 so that countries can tighten them where possible. There will be another review in 2023 and further reviews every five years after that.

Preparing for climate change

The UNFCCC commits all signatory nations to formulate, implement, publish and update measures to prepare for the impacts of climate change, known as ‘adaptation’. It also commits countries to cooperate on adaptation and provides a variety of support mechanisms for the implementation of adaptation measures in developing countries.

In 2010, the Cancun Adaptation Framework was adopted, and it was agreed that adaptation must be given the same priority as mitigation. The framework calls for further action on adaptation including reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to climate change in developing countries.

The Paris Agreement also places significant emphasis on the need for adaptation action around the world.

The science and impacts of climate change

Scientists have developed an understanding of the earth’s climate system through years of observations. We now know that global warming is the result of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.

Since the late 19th century, the global average temperature has risen by about 1°C and the global sea level has risen by about 20cm. The rising temperature is leading to wider changes to our weather. At the same time, increased CO2 levels are causing the world’s oceans to become more acidic.

Many impacts of climate change are already being detected, including:

  • warming of the troposphere (the lower part of the atmosphere)
  • acidification of the oceans
  • rising sea levels
  • declining glaciers and sea ice
  • slowing of increases to crop productivity

There is no clear threshold where climate change moves from safe to dangerous. We can expect some disruptions and irreversible losses of natural habitats and resources, even with a 2°C temperature rise.

However, with rapid global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we can still reduce the likelihood of global temperatures increasing by 2°C. On the other hand, if we take no action, global temperatures could increase by 7°C or more.

That is why it is sensible to take action now to insure against the risks of dangerous climate change.

Read the latest evidence about how and why our global climate is changing from some of the world’s leading science organisations:

International and National Agreements ,Reports and Websites:

UN Kyoto Protocal

United Nations 2030 Agenda

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UN SDGs)

Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) /UN Report:

Royal Society:

The Geological Society:

The American Institute of Physics

FSB Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures

GRI- Empowering Sustainable Decisions

Green Growth Knowledge Platform

UK regulations: the Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Act 2008 is the basis for the UK’s approach to tackling and responding to climate change. It requires that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are reduced and that climate change risks are prepared for. The Act also establishes the framework to deliver on these requirements.

The Act supports the UK’s commitment to urgent international action to tackle climate change.

How the Climate Change Act works

Through the Climate Change Act, the UK government has set a target to significantly reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a path to get there. The Act also established the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to ensure that emissions targets are evidence-based and independently assessed.

In addition, the Act requires the Government to assess the risks and opportunities from climate change for the UK, and to prepare for them. The CCC’s Adaptation Sub-Committee advises on these climate change risks and assesses progress towards tackling them.

The 2050 target

The Climate Change Act commits the UK government by law to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This includes reducing emissions from the devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), which currently account for about 20% of the UK’s emissions.

The 80% target was based on advice from the CCC’s 2008 report, ‘Building a low-carbon economy’ and a letter that provided interim advice in advance of the report.

The path to 2050: ‘Carbon budgets’

The Climate Change Act requires the government to set legally-binding ‘carbon budgets’ to act as stepping stones towards the 2050 target. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over a five-year period. Budgets must be set at least 12 years in advance to allow policy-makers, businesses and individuals enough time to prepare.

The CCC advises on the appropriate level of each carbon budget. The budgets are designed to reflect a cost-effective way of achieving the UK’s long-term climate change objectives.

The first five carbon budgets have been put into legislation and run up to 2032.

Once a carbon budget has been set, the Climate Change Act places an obligation on the Government to prepare policies to ensure the budget is met. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

The CCC was set up to ensure emissions targets are set based on expert independent assessment of the evidence and to monitor the UK’s progress towards meeting the targets. The Committee must:

  • Advise the government on the appropriate level for emissions targets and how these can be met.
  • Report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the further progress needed to meet future targets.
  • Publish its advice and reasons for that advice.

Under the Infrastructure Act 2015, the CCC has an additional duty to advise the UK government on the implications of exploiting onshore petroleum, including shale gas, for meeting UK carbon budgets. The CCC provided its first advice on onshore petroleum in 2016. The Government and national authorities may also request specific advice from the Committee on an ad-hoc basis.

Preparing for climate change

The Committee includes the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), which scrutinises and advises on the government’s programme for adapting to climate change.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment and National Adaptation Programme

The Climate Change Act requires the UK Government to produce a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years. The CCRA assesses current and future risks to and opportunities for the UK from climate change.

In response to the CCRA, the Climate Change Act also requires the UK government to produce a National Adaptation Programme (NAP). The NAP covers England, while the devolved administrations produce their own programmes and policies.

The Act also gives powers to the UK Government to require certain organisations to report on how they are adapting to climate change. This is called the Adaptation Reporting Power.

Who is responsible for climate change policies?

Tackling the causes of climate change, and preparing for its impacts, touches on all aspects of the economy. Therefore several government departments provide input into climate change policy.

The two main UK government departments responsible for collating this input are:

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – leading on policy for reducing emissions (mitigation)
  • Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) – leading on domestic adaptation policy (adaptation)

BEIS is responsible for ensuring secure energy and promoting action on climate change in the UK and internationally.

Defra is responsible for developing the National Adaptation Programme to address the risks set out in the most recent UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.

Relative to the full and actual scope in urgency of the ‘Climate Emergency’ and the 2030 Sustainability Agenda, Ethical Era predict that input will be required far beyond BEIS and DEFRA to implement the right framework for meeting climate protocols.

Please refer to the Sustainability Collaborative Intelligence + Innovation Network:

Devolved administrations

The governments and assemblies of the devolved administrations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland):

  • create climate change policy for their devolved area.
  • help to implement UK-wide policies.

As well as being covered by the Climate Change Act, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have separate climate change policies. For example:

  • The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 commits Scotland to a 42% reduction in emissions by 2020 and annual reductions between 2010 and 2050. The Scottish Government has committed to introduce a new, more ambitious Climate Change Bill. In June 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform announced proposed new emission reduction targets of 56% by 2020 and 90% by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels). There is also a requirement to produce a Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
  • Wales passed the Environment (Wales) Act in 2016, which provides for the setting of emission reduction targets to 2050, including at least an 80% reduction (compared with 1990 levels) in 2050, and five-yearly carbon budgets. The first two carbon budgets (from 2016-2020 and 2021-2025) are due to be set in 2018.
  • The Northern Ireland Executive, in its Programme for Government (2011-2015), has set a target of continuing to work towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35% (compared with 1990 levels) by 2025.

Select ‘carbon budgets’ or ‘adaptation’ on our publications page to read about the Committee’s views on current government climate change policies.

UK Climate Change Act 2008

UK Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR)
( Replaces CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme)

UK 25 Year Environment Plan Progress Report

UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 (CCRA)

Synthesis Report:

UK National Adaptation Programme (NAP)

Managing Climate Risks to Well-being and the Economy: ASC progress Report 2014 /Government response to 2015 progress report

Adaptation Reporting Power: Second Round Review

ASC Perspective on DEFRA’s Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat- 2012

Advice on draft National Planning Policy Framework

Implications of the vote to leave the EU

As a current member of the European Union (EU), the UK participates in EU action to tackle climate change. These include targets on emissions, efficiency and renewable energy.

Leaving the EU would change how UK carbon budgets are delivered: where policies previously agreed at EU level no longer apply or are weakened, new UK policies will need to replace them. But it does not change the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the level of carbon budgets (which are set in UK law), or the duty on the Government to act to tackle climate change.

In October 2016 the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published a briefing on the implications of the vote to leave the EU on UK carbon budgets. The main findings are that:

  1. The UK’s climate goals have not changed. The UK’s 2050 target and legislated carbon budgets (including the fifth carbon budget set in July 2016) remain appropriate as part of a UK contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change, including the Paris Agreement.

  2. Existing UK commitments need strong new policies that set a clearer direction across the economy, irrespective of Brexit. The Government’s plan to meet carbon budgets must be able to meet them whatever the circumstances as the UK leaves the EU.

  3. Some policy previously set at EU level should be preserved and strengthened in future.

    • The UK, alongside other Member States, has played a key role in developing EU-level mechanisms to control emissions in some areas, particularly where it makes sense to take a coordinated approach (e.g. because the relevant market is EU-wide).
    • If these mechanisms continue to be strengthened through the 2020s as required by the EU’s climate ambition they would cover 55% of the emissions reduction required in the UK to 2030.
    • In areas where these EU-level mechanisms are working effectively, or could with suitable reform, the UK should either remain in these schemes (where coordination continues to make sense) or replicate them at UK level. These include product and efficiency standards (e.g. for fuel efficiency of cars and energy efficiency of consumer goods), the EU Emissions Trading System, rules for trading of electricity, and research collaboration and innovation funding.
  4. The UK should take opportunities to improve on some EU policy approaches. For example, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP does not directly target greenhouse gas emissions reduction in agriculture although it provides funding for afforestation, which can reduce emissions. A UK-based policy framework should link farming support more closely to actions that would reduce emissions especially in light of the emerging information which suggests the meat and dairy industry are on track to surpass oil companies as biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

    The CCC also noted that, after leaving, the UK may need to submit a national pledge of effort to the UN climate process, which could be based on legislated carbon budgets. Meeting the UK’s existing targets will be a positive contribution to global climate action.

    The CCC continues to monitor developments on Brexit and the implications for carbon budgets, particularly in the context of the UKs annual progress reports to Parliament.

2019 Annual Progress Report to Parliament
Reducing UK Emissions
Committee for Climate Change (CCC)