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UK action on climate change lagging way behind what's needed

The government must show it is serious about its legal obligations to tackle and prepare for climate change, the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today as it issued its Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament.

The CCC’s hard-hitting report says UK action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets. Over the past year, it says, the government has delivered just one of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track.

Meanwhile, action to prepare homes, businesses and natural environment for a warming world is less ambitious than it was ten years ago. Of 33 key sectors assessed by the committee, none show good progress when it comes to managing climate change risk.

Lord Deben, CCC chairman, said: “The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26).  But international ambition does not deliver domestic action. It’s time for the government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by government now.”

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “The UK is not ready for the impacts of climate change, even at the minimum expected level of global warming. The government is not yet addressing adequately all of the climate risks it has itself identified as critical.”

In order to meet the UK’s legally-binding emissions targets, the committee’s 2019 progress report to parliament recommends that:

  • Net-zero policy is embedded across all levels and departments of government, with strong leadership at the centre. 
  • Government policies to reduce UK emissions to net zero are business-friendly. 
  • The public must be fully engaged in the UK’s net-zero transition. 
  • The UK strongly leads international action to tackle climate change. 

The committee’s report shows that government plans to deal with climate change impacts are insufficient in critical areas such as the natural environment, health, and business. 

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “The Climate Change Committee has published a powerful report today on the importance of us continuing to plan, mitigate and adapt in the face of future climate risks. We will be working with government and our partners to finalise the strategy later this year and will be taking the Committee’s advice into account.”

David Symons, UK director of sustainability at WSP, welcomed the report and said: “There is no time to waste. Targets alone do not deliver results and the scale of action required is unprecedented. Much of the UK’s existing and planned infrastructure will still be in place in 2050, and nearly one million homes will need to be retrofitted every year between now and 2050.

“With only one out of 25 of the headline policy actions put forward by the CCC last year deemed to be met, it may be time for government to unleash the full potential of the UK’s engineers, planners and inventors on a national project of climate action.”

Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow business and energy secretary, described the report as “a remarkable, damning assessment of the government’s failure to tackle and prepare for climate change by their own advisors.” She said: “With the government delivering on just one out of 25 policy areas, this is proof, if more were needed, that the government has no plan to tackle the climate emergency declared by parliament. Labour takes the climate crisis seriously, and will kickstart a green industrial revolution to safeguard our future and transform our economy."

Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party, said the report underlined the government’s “abject failure” in facing up the reality of climate change.  

Click here to download the Reducing UK emissions – 2019 Progress Report to Parliament