On 15 October, the UK government announced a new Environment Bill bringing several important changes to UK climate policy. The bill comes alongside the government’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) annual progress reports on UK emissions reductions and UK preparedness for climate change.
The CCC is the official advisor to the UK government on climate change. In its 2019 progress report on emissions reductions, the CCC evaluated policy implementation over 2018-2019, noting little progress against its 2018 recommendations. It also saw little underlying structural progress for emissions reductions (for example, when considering factors like building stock energy efficiency and the market share of electric vehicles). Projected progress was poor, with the fourth and fifth carbon budgets covering 2023-2027 and 2028-2032 expected to be exceeded. Among the report’s key points is that the government’s Clean Growth Strategy has focussed too much on government departments in isolation. The Strategy does not yet use a coordinated approach – a key reason future carbon budgets are threatened.
The Environment Bill aims to increase coordination across government departments with the creation of a cabinet sub-committee on climate change, chaired by the prime minister. It also provides for the formation of a new independent body: the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). It will have a chief role in holding the government to account over its environmental targets, including its 2050 net-zero emissions target. The OEP exists to replace the enforcement powers for environmental targets that the EU has had over the public bodies of its member states. The EU has had the power to impose fines on governments failing to meet standards. The UK is currently at risk of being fined by the EU for air quality violations. The OEP, in contrast, will only be able to hold government departments in contempt of court rather than impose fines.
This week shows the government is making legislative progress on the net-zero goal it set itself in May. Net-zero targets are effective depending on how they are reached. The UK has yet to answer this question, but the Environment Bill and the government’s response to the CCC mark some initial steps to clarifying the path the UK will take.