UK government dealt climate change ‘reality check’

The UK Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) latest report to Parliament warns that the UK government is failing to cut emissions fast enough and adapt to rising temperatures, and calls for action to be taken – now. 

The report notes that ‘globally, the impacts of the changing climate have become increasingly visible, while public protests have led to widespread awareness of the risks of further climate change – and the remedies’. Also acknowledging the renewed desire from governments around the world to step up their response – including the UK government’s target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – the report states that ‘tougher targets do not themselves reduce emissions’ and calls for new plans to be drawn up to deliver them. Furthermore, the report states that: ‘Even if net zero is achieved globally, our climate will continue to warm in the short-term, and sea level will continue to rise for centuries. We must plan for this reality.’

‘Climate change adaptation is a defining challenge for every government, yet there is only limited evidence of the present UK government taking it sufficiently seriously,’ claims the CCC. ‘It is time to act. Next year may see the UK host the most important global climate summit since Paris in 2015. Our credibility in the COP26 Presidency rests on real action at home.’

Reviewing the UK government’s approach to climate change adaptation and emissions reduction, the CCC reports a ‘substantial gap between current plans and future requirements’ and an ‘even greater shortfall in action’. 

‘Planning for climate change adaptation is a statutory obligation but the National Adaptation Programme (NAP) is incomplete,’ it continues. ‘Of the 56 risks and opportunities identified in the UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment, 21 have no formal actions in the NAP. Furthermore, we have been unable to give high scores for managing risk to any of the sectors we have assessed in this report. We are now seeing the substantial impacts of a global temperature rise of just 1°C. The Paris Agreement targets a threshold of well below 2°C, ideally 1.5°C, but current global plans give only a 50% chance of meeting 3°C. In these circumstances, although the UK is committed to working for global action to parallel our own adoption of a net-zero statutory target, it is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks.’

While noting that the Clean Growth Strategy, the UK’s plan for emissions reduction, ‘provides a solid foundation for the action needed to meet a net-zero GHG target’, the CCC says that policy ambition and implementation now ‘fall well short of what is required’.

Last June, the CCC advised that 25 headline policy actions were needed for the year ahead. ‘Twelve months later, only one has been delivered by government in full. Ten of the actions have not shown even partial progress. Government continues to be off track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – on their own appraisal – and the policy gap has widened further this year as an increase in the projection of future emissions has outweighed the impact of new policies,’ states the report.

It concludes: ‘The central premise of the Climate Change Act is that the government of the day holds the responsibility to act to protect future generations. This principle is at risk if the priority given to climate policy is not substantially increased over the next year and the next government spending review. The need for action has rarely been clearer. Our message to government is simple: Now, do it.’

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