Climate change watchdog warns of gaps in UK strategy

Committee urges action to strengthen climate adaptation and emissions-reduction plans and warns of reputation damage
Photo: Islandstock/Alamy Stock

By Tevye Markson

30 Jan 2024

The government must act quickly to address shortfalls in its climate strategy and keep up with global commitments made at Cop28, the Climate Change Committee has warned.

In a report analysing the action the UK needs to take following the latest UN climate conference, the watchdog warned of gaps in the government’s adaptation and emissions-reduction plans. It also warns that "mixed messages" are harming the UK's reputation.

At Cop28, nations agreed for the first time to transition away from fossil fuels, and also approved the first global framework for climate adaptation. The UK now needs to step up its action to keep up with these developments, the CCC said.

The government’s independent advisers on climate change said the UK’s adaptation plan is now lagging behind international commitments following the adoption of the Framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation at Cop28.

It said the UK's National Adaptation Plan (NAP3), which was only published in July, "is not explicitly gender-responsive, did not go through consultation, and does not include additional commitments for public engagement on adaptation planning or actions". NAP3 also does not include a monitoring and evaluation system, another requirement in the global framework.

Piers Forster, the CCC’s interim chair, said: “The new global adaptation framework goes further than our own so I urge the government to lean into its global role with an even stronger demonstration of domestic ambition.”

The CCC said the government should address the gaps by updating NAP3 “within the current policy cycle”.

‘Time is short’ to meet emission commitments

The report – Cop28: Key outcomes and next steps for the UK – also cautioned that time is running out for the UK to take the necessary action to meet Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions.

Each nation that signed up to the agreement must establish a climate action plan – which is called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDC – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and update it every five years.

The UK’s 2030 NDC sets out that the UK will reduce emissions by 68% by 2030. But the CCC warned in July of a “significant delivery gap”. 

The watchdog says achieving the 2030 NDC will require the rate of emission reductions outside of the electricity sector to quadruple that of recent years.

The government has insisted it is on track to meet its emission targets despite Rishi Sunak’s decision to water down policies aimed at phasing out petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers.

The CCC report urges a “sharper domestic response”,  cautioning the government that “time is short for the gap to be bridged” and urging transparency about how the target will be met.

“Addressing these gaps in a transparent way remains one of the most important ways for the UK to show climate leadership,” the committee said.

Reputation warning over ‘mixed messages’

The report also warned that the international perception of the UK’s climate ambition has suffered from recent government policy decisions.

The CCC praised the UK’s “important role” in negotiating the agreements made at Cop28 and said the UK is continuing to implement strong climate policies, like the new zero emissions vehicle mandate and the boiler upgrade scheme.

But it said the UK’s reputation had suffered from “mixed messages” under Sunak’s leadership.

It said the prime minister’s net-zero speech in September – in which watered down net-zero pledges – and the government’s decision to approve a new coal mine and license new oil and gas production in Cumbria in 2022 has “contributed to a perception of slowing UK climate ambition”.

“Strong, consistent domestic policy and communications on climate that avoid mixed messaging are crucial to be able to robustly advocate for high climate ambition internationally,” the CCC said.

A government spokesperson said: "We welcome the Climate Change Committee’s recognition of the UK’s pivotal role at Cop28 and our strength in climate diplomacy as a leader in Global Stocktake negotiations.

“The UK is leading international action, delivering an agreement to transition away from fossil fuels and as one of the largest contributors to the loss and damage fund.

“We are the first major economy to halve our emissions, have some of the world’s most ambitious legally binding targets, and have over delivered on every carbon budget to date, while our significant investment in the UK’s world leading clean energy sector – with 40% of our electricity now renewable compared to just 7% in 2010 – is bolstering our energy security.”

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