UK: Climate Change Act

Last Updated: 7 September 2009
Article by Neil Amner

The Climate Change (Scotland) Bill received Royal Assent on 04 August 2009. The Act will act as the principal Climate Change framework in Scotland from which further, more specific regulations will be made relating to renewable energy, forestry, energy efficiency and waste, amongst others. The Act, has attracted a great deal of comment, including the following observations:

  • It does not make provision for Ministerial accountability in the event of targets not being achieved;
  • The targets up to 2020 are too relaxed and could result in progress towards the 2030 and 2050 targets slipping;
  • Progress towards the 2020 targets has already slipped significantly and catching up will present a considerable challenge; and
  • There is no limit on the proportion of Scotland's emissions reductions that can be achieved through purchasing international carbon credits.

It might be that future amendments and sets of regulations will address some of these concerns.

The provisions of the Act can be expected to have effects ranging from the small-scale (e.g. being charged for carrier bags) to the large-scale (e.g. climate change adaptation projects and renewable energy and heat projects).

The Act is split into six parts:

Part 1 – The Targets

Part 2 – Scottish Climate Change Committee

Part 3 – Reporting Duties

Part 4 – Duties of Public Bodies

Part 5 – Other Climate Change Provisions

Part 6 – General and Miscellaneous

Part 1 – The Targets

The first part of the Act sets out the "black and white" emissions reduction targets. These are as follows:

  • A long-term target of ensuring Scottish Emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 are at least 80% lower than the baseline.
  • An interim target of ensuring Scottish Emissions of greenhouse gases in 2030 are at least 50% lower than the baseline.
  • Annual targets of ensuring that maximum emissions of greenhouse gases for the period 2010-2022 (to be set no late than 01 June 2010) and for subsequent five-year periods are not exceeded. The subsequent periods are; 2023-2027; 2028-2032, etc (the targets for each to be set no later than 31 October in 12th year before the beginning of the period in question i.e. the 2023 target must be set by 31 October 2011); From 2020, each annual target must be at least 3% lower than the previous one.

"Greenhouse Gases" refers to six gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. These are the same gases referred to in the Kyoto Protocol.

"Baseline" is the net Scottish emission in 1990 of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and 1995 for the other three gases.

"Scottish Emissions" is capable of including emissions that represent Scotland's share of emissions from international aviation and shipping. The "UK" Climate Change Act does not include aviation and shipping emissions.

Part 2 – Climate Change Committee

Although the Act contains provisions for creation of a Scottish Committee on Climate Change, the UK Climate Change Act establishes a UK Committee on Climate Change to provide expert advice, analysis, information or assistance on climate change matters. Scottish Ministers will refer to the UK Committee but the Act provides them with the option of creating a Scottish Committee if this is deemed to be in Scotland's interests.

Part 3 – Reporting Duties

The Scottish Ministers are required to report regularly to the Scottish Parliament across the full range of reduction targets. These reports are to include: annual reports, reports on proposals and policies designed to meet current and future targets, report on instances of exceeding emissions targets and, finally, produce final statements in respect of the 2030 and 2050 targets.

Part 4 – Duties of Public Bodies

Part 4 places reporting duties, similar to those in Part 3, on public bodies although the precise nature and extent of these duties will be become clearer over time.

Part 5 – Other Climate Change Provisions

Split into 4 chapters, Part 5 addresses specific topics that have significant effects for emissions reductions.

  • Chapter 1 – Climate Change Adaptation

Scottish Ministers are obliged to create a programme addressing climate change risks identified at UK level and setting out relevant proposals and policies.

  • Chapter 2 – Land Use

The provisions are designed to facilitate renewable energy development on the National Forest Estate by giving The Forestry Commissioners the ability to enter into Joint Ventures for renewable energy development, particularly wind and hydro, with developers and local communities.

Organisations involved in forestry have given a general welcome to the proposals but have raised questions surrounding the specifics of the Joint Ventures, the extent to which funds generated will be re-invested in forestry and/or climate change actions, impacts on employment and the phasing of energy schemes to prevent dumping of felled material onto the market.

  • Chapter 3 – Energy Efficiency

A duty is placed on Scottish Ministers, within 12 months of the relevant section coming into force, to produce a plan promoting energy efficiency. A duty is also placed on Scottish Ministers to promote the use of heat from renewable sources.

  • Chapter 4 – The Scottish Civil Estate

Duties are placed on Scottish Ministers in respect of buildings used for Scottish Government business.

  • Chapter 5 – Waste Reduction and Recycling

The Scottish Ministers will be able to pass regulations in respect of:

  • Waste prevention and management plans - practical examples of such plans include how a builder plans to reduce waste generated by a building operation or how an office will minimise its waste. It is likely a system of enforcement, including offences and penalties, will be required to ensure that plans are actually drafted and complied with.
  • Provision, by specified "persons", to SEPA, of information about the waste produced by those persons' activities. It is likely a system of enforcement will be required to ensure information is provided correctly and on time.
  • Provision of recycling facilities for deposit of waste and requiring that such waste be collected by an authorised person and recycled (as far as practicable). Again, a system of enforcement is likely.
  • Targets for reductions in the amount of packaging in use or the amount of greenhouse gases associated with such packaging. Targets could be set according to such measures as turnover or market share.
  • Charging for the supply of carrier bags – the charge would not be levied by central or local government but by the suppliers of the bags e.g. supermarkets. The proceeds would have to be applied to broadly environmental purposes and a system of enforcement is provided for.

Part 6 – General and Miscellaneous

This part simply makes administrative and procedural provision for measures specified earlier in the Act.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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