Following a Special Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ("IPCC") on October 8, 2018, the UK Climate Change Committee ("CCC") was asked to advise the UK government on the implications of the Paris Agreement 2016 and the Special Report for the United Kingdom's long-term emissions. The CCC was, in particular, asked whether further UK action was needed to meet goals of the Paris Agreement. The CCC's advice on May 2, 2019, was to legislate as soon as possible to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions. This view came just a day after Parliament had declared a climate change emergency following a series of protests by the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion.
Parliament passed the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) ("Order") on June 26, 2019. The Order, which came into force on June 27, 2019, has increased the United Kingdom's 2050 net GHG emissions reduction target from 80% to 100% compared to 1990 levels. In doing so, the United Kingdom has made a far-reaching, unilateral commitment and has become the first G7 economy to legislate on net zero emissions.
The Order provides no guidance or indication regarding the feasibility of meeting this new binding target. Critics have noted the action taken merely acknowledges the issues but fails to put into place practical measures to tackle them. In the words of Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, "international ambition does not deliver domestic action." The CCC emphasised that the government must "get real," establish "bold plans," and take "real action" to ensure the United Kingdom is on track with its legal obligations to reduce GHG emissions.
In its Report to Parliament on July 10, 2019, assessing the UK progress in preparing for climate change, the CCC has highlighted that the government has "failed to increase adaption policy ambition and implementation," that "the National Adaption Programme does not address all" risks, and that "the priority given to adaptation" has been decreasing over the last 10 years. The CCC argues that "on the basis of the evidence available, England is not prepared for even a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature, let alone more extreme levels of warming." The CCC puts forward 12 recommendations, with the 12th specifically recommending that clear deadlines be set to ensure that "listed companies and business owners report on climate-related risks and opportunities."
The July Report sets out in more detail what risks businesses are facing. It highlights that "a few large investors are beginning to put pressure on the companies they invest in to change their reporting practices and give greater consideration to climate change. Credit Ratings Agencies are also starting to incorporate climate risk into their assessments of credit worthiness." The Bank of England has also identified that the majority of banks are beginning to treat the risks from climate change like other financial risks.
Chris Stark, the CCC's chief executive, has pointed out that the majority of the reduction shares have come from the closure of coal-fired power stations, but there are only so many of them. He notes that the government is going to need to focus on other means, including achieving zero plastic waste by 2042, carbon capture, and bringing forward the date for a ban on all-petrol and diesel fuel-powered vehicles from 2040 to 2035.
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