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UK climate laws ‘falling short’ despite emissions reductions

By Jemma Slingo >>

(7 September 2021)

The UK’s ‘pioneering’ climate laws have been more effective than legislative efforts elsewhere in the world – but are still failing to reduce emissions by an adequate amount, a campaigning legal group reports today.

In ‘Navigating Net-Zero’, ClientEarth examines climate legislation in Mexico, France, Finland, the UK, Sweden and Victoria, Australia. It found that the laws are ‘potentially critical tools in the fight against climate change’ and that the UK has achieved some of the greatest emissions reductions of all the states studied, with an ‘effective system of interim target setting’.

The UK Climate Act 2008 is recognised as the first ‘framework climate law’ – legislation which seeks to establish an overarching national framework for cutting emissions. It requires the government to set legally binding emissions targets, called carbon budgets, every five years. The government must also publish carbon plans for each carbon budget, which are reviewed by an independent body.

The UK has met its first two carbon budgets and, according to ClientEarth’s report, is likely to meet its third budget covering 2018-2022.

However, the charity said this is ‘less to do with the UK’s Climate Change Act and more to do with the financial crash of 2009 which depressed economic output in the act’s early years’. It added that the UK is ‘unlikely to meet its fourth carbon budget as repeatedly predicted (and protested) by the Climate Change Committee’.

ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac said: ‘For laws that break new ground, you expect teething problems – but there is much to learn from the successes and mistakes made in these pioneering efforts. The world needs strong climate laws to accelerate action on global warming. These six jurisdictions set an example for ambition, now they must raise it by improving clarity and enforcement.’

She added that common pitfalls include a lack of hard legally binding interim targets, over complexity, delayed implementation, and a failure to regularly monitor progress.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)