To coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act receiving Royal Assent in the UK in November 2008, the Energy Institute convened a ‘virtual panel’ of ten figures who were in leading positions at the time - six of them now Fellows of the EI - to reflect on how it came to pass, what it has meant for the UK and the prospects for the future. The result, part of the EI Views series, is a social history from diverse perspectives of one of the most ground-breaking pieces of environmental legislation of its day.
The following is the individual perspective of Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI, who in 2008 and now is Chief Executive of Good Energy.
Reflections on 2008
1. How significant was the passing of the Climate Change Act in your view, and why?
The passing of the Climate Change Act shifted everything. It gave a focus and a binding target for policy makers that has kept the focus on renewable energy, and not allowed any politics to side-line it.
2. What were the factors that led to its overwhelming adoption by Parliament? Did parliamentarians fully understand its implications?
I think the overwhelming thought was that collective action had to happen, and it was a rare time you saw politicians come together to do the right thing. I don’t think anyone knew what impact it might have, and all the implications, but sometimes good things come from a leap of faith.
3. Did you have any misgivings at the time? Either about the level of the 2050 target or the framework or process designed to achieve it?
We didn’t get into the detail, we were more focused on how we might fund our next renewable investments than what the long-term vision would be.
The view from 2018
4. Marks out of ten please! Ten years on, has the CCA lived up to its ambition? Has decarbonisation to date progressed as you expected? Where have we been successful and where is progress disappointing?
I would give 8/10 on electricity 3/10 on heat and 2/10 on transport. Renewables have transformed the electricity market and have been the big success. Emissions are down 43% from the baseline set in 1990, and the vast bulk of that has been as a result of the changes in electricity generation. Heat has been slow moving and there have been few practical solutions coming through. There has been very little on transport, either on fuels or on electricity or hydrogen. I think we’re all hoping to see acceleration in both heat and transport to catch up with the success of electricity.
5. How strongly has the Climate Change Act influenced changes in behaviour and decision making by government, industry and consumers?
The CCA has changed the behaviour of policy makers and regulators. Industry has also been building momentum behind a movement of change, driven less by the CCA, more by the climate change imperative. However, consumers are the big untapped potential. The conversation around energy that the government has driven with consumers has always been about price, never around climate change and renewables. But we know consumers care about climate change, so changing the conversation could change everything.
6. To what extent has the UK maintained its position as a global climate leader since the Act was set?
I think the UK was doing pretty well up until 2015 when we closed down the support mechanism, and focused only on offshore wind and nuclear. Investment in renewables in the UK halved in 2017, so we’ve seen the country take a big step back from its position on the forefront.
Lessons for 2028 and beyond
7. As the carbon budgets tighten and the ‘lower-hanging fruit’ of easier emissions reduction measures run out, how can popular buy-in to the Climate Change Act’s goals be maintained?
We need to have the conversation with the wider public and make sure we get buy in for how we deliver. Having the public hold government to account has not happened enough, and has meant that planning regimes that favour more expensive technologies have not been called out. We also need to think more creatively on how we solve the problem. To date, policy has been focused on technology, and in some cases individual technologies. Going forward, we need to take a holistic approach, considering how technologies can work together to reduce costs.
8. Is the Climate Change Act consistent with the Paris Agreement? In the context of 1.5C, should we be increasing ambition to net-zero emissions by 2050? And what about accounting for emissions from sources with less clear jurisdiction (aviation, imports, etc.)?
It is generally acknowledged that the CCA was an ambitious commitment, but that absolutely should not rule out tightening our targets. As we start to see the real effects of extreme weather and consumers start to call for action, that may need to become a given.
9. How could Brexit affect the UK’s continued progress towards its CCA targets?
Brexit is a massive unknown. It could create a market where the pound devalues further, so increasing energy costs and making renewables without subsidy more attractive. But at the same time that could also increase the cost of the technology, as so little is manufactured in the UK, either neutralising the impact or have a negative impact on the deployment of renewables. Either way I think you need a brain the size of a planet to work it out, something I don’t possess (and unfortunately neither do the people in control!)
10. What would your advice be to other countries now thinking about legislation to meet similar climate change goals?
Set bold targets, make them legally binding. Try and think more about the consumer rather than the technology, and the use of the technology light, heat, transport etc. And find a way to support renewables for the end user rather than just at a wholesale level.
Read more from our CCA at 10 Class of 2008