Who is the Climate Change Committee, and what do they do?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) stands as an independent statutory entity body established by the Climate Change Act 2008. Its core function is to advise the UK and its devolved governments on setting emissions targets and to serve as an impartial advisor on mitigating climate change. The CCC reports to Parliament regarding progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in preparing for, as well as adapting to, the impacts of climate change. It offers a long-term perspective on UK climate policy.

The CCC functions as a non-departmental public body and is sponsored by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. Despite being publicly funded, the CCC lacks budgetary independence, a situation it offsets with a commitment to transparency. It publishes reports, supporting data, and research in full. Moreover, under the Freedom of Information Act, the public has the right to request any recorded information held by the CCC on any subject that falls under their scope.

The advice of the CCC has been instrumental in shaping legislation and policies across the UK, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This expert technical advisory body’s recommendations have significantly influenced climate change and environmental legislation and policies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

A key aspect of the CCC’s work involves the reduction of the UK’s emissions through the assessment of the latest greenhouse gas emissions data. This is to determine whether the UK is on track to meet its carbon budget targets, which set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases in the UK over five years.

As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, the UK government is committed under the Climate Change Act to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. This Act has formalised the UK’s approach to combating climate change. It requires the UK government to establish legally binding carbon budgets, moving towards the 2050 target, with an emphasis on both mitigating emissions and adapting to increase resilience against climate change. The CCC plays a crucial role in maintaining the UK’s focus on achieving this long-term target.

The Adaptation Committee, a branch of the CCC, advises the government on the climate risks and opportunities for the UK. The committee leads the development of an independent evidence report, which informs the statutory UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, and biennially reports on England’s progress. The CCC’s methodologies have reached beyond the UK, with countries like New Zealand and Korea adopting elements of its framework for their climate risk assessments.

The CCC lacks ‘formal powers’ to alter the government’s climate change strategy and instead depends on the potential political embarrassment that its assessments may cause, alongside the threat of judicial review by environmental groups to enforce its statutory obligations under the Climate Change Act. This reliance on informal power has meant that some recommendations have been ignored, and the government has not always adopted the suggested policies. An example is the UK’s reluctance to reduce meat consumption, despite the CCC’s warnings that the government was not on track to meet its 2030 climate targets set before COP26 in Glasgow.

As a result of this noncompliance, the CCC’s progress assessments have become increasingly explicit, this evolution has made it easier for the public to judge the government’s response to the discrepancy between climate targets and the policies intended to achieve them.

Read the 2023 report.

© Lawrence Power 2024

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