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The United Kingdom, as part of its contributions to international efforts, introduced its own domestic legislation to tackle climate change in November 2008. The Climate Change Act 2008 seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a long-term targeted and “economically credible strategy”. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2050. The long-term target is translated into five-year carbon budgets, which restrict the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can legally emit in a given five-year period. The carbon budgets legislated to date have been made in context of the UK as a member of the European Union and must continue to be met, unless revised to say otherwise, after the UK has left the EU. UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 38 percent since 1990, but the Committee on Climate Change has identified a policy gap to meet the latest carbon budget, stating that current policies are likely to deliver at best around half of the required emissions reduction from 2015–2030. 

Action to mitigate climate change is coordinated extensively at a global level. The EU has legislated on a range of climate change issues, including cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in energy efficiency through the 2020 and additional 2030 climate and energy framework. It is argued that a number of these directives have significantly contributed to emissions reduction in the UK. 

On 30 March 2017, the Great Repeal Bill white paper, ‘Legislating for the UK’s Withdrawal from the EU’, was published which set out the Government’s intentions for ensuring a functioning statute book once the UK has left the EU. It states that the whole body of existing EU environmental law will continue to have effect in the UK, but does not explicitly mention EU climate change law.

This House of Lords Library briefing offers an overview of domestic UK climate change legislation and highlights a selection of European legislation relating to climate change and how it has been implemented in the UK. This briefing also discusses the potential implications of leaving the EU on the targets set into UK law, with additional information on greenhouse gas emissions from EU countries and on their climate change domestic legislation.


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