Climate change action showing lack of ambition

The Committee on Climate Change has expressed shock that the UK has no proper plans for protecting people from heatwaves, flash flooding and other impacts of the climate crisis.

Over the past year, the government has been found to have delivered just one of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track. The committee’s new report also shows that action to prepare our 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 in a second, related report, none show good progress when it comes to managing climate change risk.

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, and that policy should provide clear and stable direction and a simple, investable set of rules and incentives which leave room for businesses to innovate and find the most effective means of switching to low-carbon technologies; and that the public must be fully engaged in the UK’s net-zero transition. Over half of the emissions cuts required to reach net zero require people to do things differently. Policy and low-carbon products should be designed around individuals’ needs.

The committee also stresses that the UK strongly lead international action to tackle climate change, using its new net-zero target, and potential position as host of COP26, to encourage increased effort to reduce emissions worldwide, including pushing for the adoption of similar world-leading targets by other developed countries in the EU and beyond.

Furthermore, key opportunities need to be seized over the next 12 months, with the government urged to: reward farmers who are working to improve the natural environment; take steps to protect people from the dangerous effects of overheating in homes, schools, care homes and hospitals’ require businesses to disclose the financial risks they face from climate change impacts; take positive steps to reduce water consumption; and implement the Environment Agency’s proposed Flood Strategy, including the need for flexible approaches to manage flooding in different parts of the country, natural flood management measures like tree planting, and increased property-level flood protection – around 9,000 properties need to be fitted with protection per year, up from 500 currently.

Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, 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). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition. 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.”