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Lord Deben: The Committee on Climate Change is upping the ante on the Government’s response to climate change

3 min read

By focusing on the actions individual ministries have taken towards meeting net zero, we aim to pinpoint the successes and highlight those areas still lagging behind, writes Lord Deben


The last Parliament’s declaration of a national climate emergency was recognition that climate change is playing out in front of our eyes. The recent floods and their devastating impact on people’s homes and livelihoods continue to drive that message home. Clearly, we need to see a stepchange in UK climate action.

Assessing the UK’s progress in tackling the causes and effects of climate change falls to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which I chair. 

Set up in 2008 as dictated by the Climate Change Act, we act as Parliament’s climate watchdog, scrutinising the government’s efforts and reporting progress to Parliament. We do this for both emissions reduction and adaptation – how well the UK is preparing for climate change impacts.

Our latest progress report to Parliament in July 2019 made for sombre reading. It showed that the Government had delivered just one of 25 critical policies required to get UK emissions reductions on track to meet targets in the mid-2020s. 

Conspicuous by their absence were new policies on transport emissions, standards to reduce emissions from housing, and a framework to support low-carbon farming practices, among many others. 
The picture on adaptation was as concerning. In recent years, the UK has failed to increase its ambition in this vital area, despite the urgent need to address the risks from climate change. When levels of the River Wye peaked half a metre above record levels in Monmouth a couple of weeks ago, that urgency was once again plain to see.

There is, however, some indication that we may be turning a corner. Since Parliament declared a national climate emergency last May, the UK Government has committed to a legally-binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and labelled 2020 the year of climate action. 

The target for net zero greenhouse gases by 2050 is based on the advice of our committee. Meeting the target will require a clear shift in ambition, and a significant increase in action. 

Simply put, we will need to see an annual rate of emissions reduction which is 50% higher than under the UK’s previous 2050 target (to reduce emissions by 80%) and 30% higher than achieved on average since 1990. Our detailed analysis shows it is achievable. 

Our scrutiny role is a cyclical one. Our next progress report to Parliament, in June this year, will set out whether new policies and announcements from Government in this year of climate action match the level of ambition required. 

This year, we are adopting a department-by-department approach, focusing on the actions individual ministries have taken towards meeting net zero, as well as assessing coordination across Whitehall. 

We aim to pinpoint the successes and highlight those areas that are still lagging behind. It will provide Parliamentarians from all sides of the House with impartial analysis of what needs to happen next. 

Then, in September, we publish our advice to Government on the level of the Sixth Carbon Budget – setting a limit on emissions for the period 2033-2037. This will be the first time we have advised on the pathway to delivering net zero, in both the near and longer-term. That too will provide further material to enable in-depth scrutiny of Government action. 

It is then up to our Parliamentarians, armed with the latest evidence and analysis, to hold the Government to account. On this vital issue, we must not fail. 

Lord Deben is a Conservative peer and chair of the Committee on Climate Change

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Deben - The Conservative Party must rediscover Thatcher’s pioneering climate leadership

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