Climate change explainers

The House of Commons Library Climate Change Explainers (June 2020) are short briefings providing impartial analysis and explanation on climate topics. They include climate change fundamentals such as UK and global emissions, the science, and the history of international negotiations. They also provides a guide to understanding climate change policymaking and developments in approaches to addressing climate change.  

A range of briefings on climate change are available from the Library and other parliamentary sources. The most recent, providing an overview of climate change policies across the UK, are set out below. Sector specific briefings are also available but not included here.

UK climate change policy

The Climate Change Act 2008  provides the framework for UK climate change policy. It established long-term statutory targets for the UK to decarbonise by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Under this the UK has a net-zero emissions target for 2050. The Act also established the Climate Change Committee as an independent body to advise the Government on setting its targets, report on progress, and put in place the framework to promote adaptation action. 

House of Commons Library briefings are prepared to meet the demands of parliamentary business and should not be seen as comprehensive coverage of climate change policy. Details of the most recent briefings are set out below.

  • The UK Emissions Trading Scheme (May 2021) replaced the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in the UK on 1 January 2021. The UK ETS is similar to the EU ETS in design. They both set emissions limits for high emitting industries and allowing them to trade carbon credits to meet their requirements. They UK ETS has 5% reduction in the emissions allowed, compared to the UKs cap within the EU ETS. The schemes are not linked, although both parties have expressed the intention of opening discussions to link them in the future.
  • Climate Assembly UK (November 2020). The Assembly was jointly commissioned by six Parliamentary Select Committees in 2019 to answer the question of how the UK should meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It published its report, The Path to Net Zero, in September 2020 which was debated in Parliament in November 2020.
  • The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Level playing field briefing (20 March 2021) looks at the provisions on climate change in the Agreement. The Library’s briefing on the UK-EU future relationship negotiations: Level playing field (17 March 2020) discusses the position of EU and UK during the negotiations of the of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, including on climate change. 
  • Library debate pack on climate justice (February 2020) and ensuring a just transition to a net-zero economy.
  • Library briefing on Brexit: energy and climate change (September 2019) discusses climate change policy in the UK, the status of related Brexit negotiations and the possible impact of Brexit on these policy areas.
  • UK Carbon Budgets (July 2019) covers the first five carbon budgets. It provides an overview of carbon budgets, decarbonisation, UK Government plans and progress against the targets. The Committee on Climate Change published its advice on the 6th Carbon Budget covering the period 2033-2037 in December 2020. The UK Government accepted the recommendation for the target, which is a reduction in emissions of 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035.
  • Net Zero: a new UK climate change target? (October 2018) gives background to the Government’s proposal to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 to include a net zero target. The Library briefing on Net Zero in the UK (December 2019) provides detail of the introduction of the UK’s net zero target for 2050. Acting on climate change: The plan for net zero emissions in the UK  (December 2019) is a short overview of net zero including policies for reducing emissions in key sectors like transport, energy, housing and agriculture.

International climate change conferences

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the 1992 Earth Summit. It entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 196 States or “Parties” to the Convention. The objective of the Treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Every year a Conference of the Parties (COP) takes place. Parties have agreed, at COP21 in Paris in 2015, to “keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 oC”. For further information on this see the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology PostNote on Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C  (February 2019).

The UK, in partnership with Italy, was due to host the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow and Milan in October 2020, now postponed to November 2021. The UK Government will hold the Presidency of COP26; Alok Sharma is currently President designate of COP26. Further information on the UK’s preparations in the run up to the Conference can be found the UK COP26 website.

The following Library briefings cover COP26 and previous conferences:

Briefings on earlier conferences are also available on the Commons Library Website.

 Other parliamentary material


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