This is a brief overview of climate change and biodiviersity policy, including recent international developments, provided as background for the debate.

Climate Change Policy

The Government’s main climate change policy document is the Net Zero Strategy (Build Back Greener), which was published on 19 October 2021 (updated April 2022). It sets out policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the Government’s net zero target by 2050, which is a legal requirement established under The Climate Change Act 2008.

The Net Zero Strategy builds on the Government’s 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, which was published on 18 November 2020. It focuses on the following areas:

  • advancing offshore wind
  • driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
  • delivering new and advanced nuclear power
  • accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
  • green public transport, cycling and walking
  • ‘jet zero’ and green ships
  • greener buildings
  • investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
  • protecting our natural environment
  • green finance and innovation

Implementing climate change policy

The Climate Change Committee(CCC) is an independent body established under the Climate Change Act, to advise Government on tackling climate change and monitoring the Government’s progress on reaching net zero. The CCC website sets out how climate change policy is implemented across Government:

Tackling the causes of climate change, and adapting to its impacts, touches on all aspects of the economy. The Government has created a Cabinet Committee on Climate Change chaired by the Prime Minister. This is supported by subcommittees to ensure climate change decision making is across Government. It is for all government departments to include climate change in its thinking when making policy decisions.

Up to 7 February 2023 the two main UK government departments responsible for climate change were:

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – leading on policy for reducing emissions (mitigation). BEIS is responsible for ensuring secure energy and promoting action on climate change in the UK and internationally.

Department for Environment and Rural Affairs(Defra) – leading on domestic adaptation policy (adaptation). Defra is responsible for developing the National Adaptation Programme to address the risks set out in the most recent UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.

The Government announced on 7 February 2023 the creation of four new department including one for Energy Security and Net Zero which will be “focused on the energy portfolio from the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy”.

The Climate Change Act also requires Government to produce a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years and a National Adaptation Programme (NAP). 

Monitoring progress

The CCC’s latest statutory progress report to Parliament was published in June 2022. It provided recommendations based on a new monitoring framework and set out the following headline statements:

  • The UK Government now has a solid Net Zero strategy in place, but important policy gaps remain.
  • Tangible progress is lagging the policy ambition. With an emissions path set for the UK and the Net Zero Strategy published, greater emphasis and focus must be placed on delivery.
  • Successful delivery of changes on the ground requires active management of delivery risks. Not all policies will deliver as planned. Some may be more successful than expected, while others will fall behind.
  • Action to address the rising cost of living should be aligned with Net Zero. There remains an urgent need for equivalent action to reduce demand for fossil fuels to reduce emissions and limit energy bills.
  • Slow progress on wider enablers. The Net Zero Strategy contained warm words on many of the cross-cutting enablers of the transition, but there has been little concrete progress.
  • The UK must build on a successful COP26.The UK presidency of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November successfully strengthened long-term global ambition and introduced new mechanisms to support delivery. It should prioritise making those new mechanisms work in practice and strengthening global 2030 ambition, while preparing for a focus on climate finance and adaptation at COP27 in 2022 and COP28 in 2023.

The Government publishes responses to the CCC’s annual reports to Parliament in October, although the response to this later report is not yet available.

International developments

International climate conference COP27 took place in Egypt in November 2022. The Egyptian presidency outlined four key themes for COP27 in advance of the meeting: mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration. It called for all nations to build on the commitments of COP26 and highlighted the need for immediate action on climate mitigation.

In total, 11 different topics were covered on different thematic days during the conference, covering topics such as finance, water, gender, biodiversity, agriculture and energy.

The final decision text, known as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan reaffirms the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, “a clear emissions gap between current national climate plans and what’s needed” to meet this target remains, as highlighted by the World Resources Institute.

Finance was at the centre of negotiations at COP27. One of the headline outcomes was reaching agreement to compensate nations for loss and damage caused by climate change through the establishment of a fund.

According to the UNFCC, there was “significant progress on adaptation” with more than $230 million of new pledges made to the Adaptation Fund. A mitigation work programme was also launched which will start immediately after COP27 and continue until 2026. Governments were also asked to strengthen their national climate plans by the end of 2023.

Climate change further reading

Commons Library Insight on What was agreed at COP27?  and briefing on COP27: The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Climate change: An overview is a collection of overarching climate change-related parliamentary briefings and publications.

Climate change explainers 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.  

Biodiversity policy

The UK Government has produced a number of action plans and strategies on biodiversity. A Biodiversity Action Plan 1992-2012 was published in 1994. This was followed by Biodiversity 2020 a strategic plan for biodiversity in England, published in 2011. The 25 Year Environment Plan, published in 2018, included a commitment to publish a new strategy for nature, building on the existing strategy.

In addition, the Government committed in September 2020 to protect 30% of UK land by 2030 as part of the UK’s commitment to the Leaders Pledge for Nature.  It would do so by designating and protecting 4,000 km2 of new land in England (nature conservation is for the most part a devolved matter).

The Environment Act 2021 included several new policies aimed at improving biodiversity in England including:

  • A 10% biodiversity net gain requirement for development
  • A target on species abundance for 2030
  • A requirement for Local Nature Recovery Strategies and the creation of a Nature Recovery Network

In addition, under the Act, the Government proposed a number of further 2042 targets for biodiversity in its consultation on environmental targets, which closed in June 2022. They were due to be published, as set out in the Environment Act 2021, by 31 October 2022. However, the Government missed this target, as explained in a statement from Defra. They were published in December 2022 and included the following on nature and biodiversity:

  • Halt the decline in species populations by 2030, and then increase populations by at least 10% to exceed current levels by 2042

  • Deliver our net zero ambitions and boost nature recovery by increasing tree and woodland cover to 16.5% of total land area in England by 2050

  • Restore 70% of designated features in our Marine Protected Areas to a favourable condition by 2042, with the rest in a recovering condition.

These targets are now set out in The Environmental Targets (Biodiversity) (England) Regulations 2023  and The Environmental Targets (Woodland and Trees Outside Woodland) (England) Regulations 2023.

The Government published an Environment Implementation Plan in January 2023, as five yearly update to the 25 Year Environment Plan.  The Plan the Environmental Improvement Plan provides for a set of interim targets to support the statutory longer-term targets and to help track progress:

  • To restore or create 140,000 ha of a range of wildlife-rich habitats outside protected sites by 31 January 2028, compared to 2022 levels.

  • All SSSIs will have an up-to-date condition assessment by 31 January 2028.

  • 50% of SSSIs to have actions on track to achieve favourable condition by 31 January 2028.

  • Increase tree canopy and woodland cover by 0.26% of land area (equivalent to 34,000 hectares) by 31 January 2028.

It has also publishes an Outcome Indicator Framework which contains 66 indicators, setting out progress on natural capital assets  and showing “the condition of these assets, the pressures acting upon them and the provision of services or benefits they provide”.

International developments

The UN Biodiversity Conference takes place annually. It met in December 2022 with the aim of agreeing a new set of post 2020 goals for nature as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. The final part of the 15th conference of the parties (COP15) conference took place in Canada, hosting the Chinese presidency.

COP15 saw the adoption of a new set of international goals for biodiversity called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). A total of 188 governments (including the UK) agreed to the GBF and committed to address the ongoing loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity. The GBF contains four overarching goals and 23 targets. The four goals set out a vision for biodiversity by 2050:

Goal A: Substantially increase the area of natural ecosystems by maintaining, enhancing or restoring the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems. Reduce by tenfold the extinction rate and risk of all species and increase the abundance of native wild species. Maintain the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species and safeguard their adaptive potential.

Goal B: Ensure nature’s contributions to people are valued, maintained and enhanced, with those contributions currently in decline being restored.

Goal C: Share the monetary and non-monetary benefits of the utilisation of genetic resources, digital sequence information on genetic resources, and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources with Indigenous people and local communities. Additionally, ensure traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is appropriately protected.

Goal D: Ensure all parties (specifically developing countries) have adequate means to implement the GBF. This includes financial resources, capacity building, technical and scientific cooperation, and access to technology.

In addition to these goals and targets, parties approved a series of related agreements on the GBF’s implementation. For example, parties agreed that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should establish a special trust fund as soon as possible to support countries to implement the GBF. The GEF is an international organisation that provides funding for biodiversity protection, nature restoration, pollution reduction and climate change responses in developing countries.

Although the GBF is not legally binding, it requires countries to monitor and report on their progress against the GBF’s goals and targets every five years or earlier.

For further details on what was agreed at COP15 see the House of Lords Library In Focus briefing on COP15: Global biodiversity framework.

Biodiversity further reading

House of Lords Library In Focus briefing on COP15: Global biodiversity framework published 6 January 2023

Carbon Brief Key outcomes of COP15: Key outcomes agreed at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal published 20 December 2022

Commons Debate Pack on Protecting and restoring nature at COP15 and beyond published July 2022. This includes detail of progress in the run up to the COP15 biodiversity conference, information on UK policy together with UK and international biodiversity statistics. A transcript of the debate which took place on 14 July 2022 is available from Hansard.

The UK’s footprint on global biodiversity Environmental Audit Committee report published January 2022. Government response published February 2022

In Focus briefing on biodiversity from the House of Lords Library published April 2021

PostNote on effective biodiversity indicators published May 2021

PostBrief on biodiversity indicators published May 2021

Biodiversity in the UK: Boom or Bust?  Environmental Audit Select Committee report June 2021. Government response published September 2021

Wildlife Trusts Combatting the Climate and Nature Emergency

Zero Hour Campaigner Launch: The Nature and Climate Declaration

Related posts