Ten years on, are we leading on climate change or trailing?

This week saw a remarkable milestone reached – and I’m not talking about Brexit. Monday was the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act, one of the most influential pieces of legislation to pass parliament over the last decade.

Whitehouse brought together a panel of influential players from the last ten years to reflect on the Act’s successes and failure: Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee of Climate Change, Sir Edward Davey, Former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Adam Vaughan, Energy Editor of the Guardian, Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment Strategy at L&G Investment Management and the Bishop of Salisbury who leads on environmental affairs for the Church of England.

The title of the event was in fact relatively contentious; the climate change act ten years on: the global gold standard. The act was a trailblazer,  one of the first pieces of legislation globally to set emission targets into statute and many other administrations around the world followed suit.

But is the target set in 2008 still the global gold standard? The first line reads “It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the baseline”. But the most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report makes clear that we need to be delivering a net-zero emission economy globally by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

As a result of the IPCC report and pressure from the Labour party who have now committed to a 2050 net-zero target, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry has written to the Committee on Climate Change to ask them to advise on whether this target is realistic and necessary. The panel are considering the scientific evidence but given that Professor Jim Skea, one of the main authors of the IPCC report is also a member of the Committee, it is easy to predict their response.

The key question is whether the government is willing to take on this challenge.

The panellists were unanimous in their conclusions that the UK is already slipping on its current targets and that there needs to be more urgency from the current administration. They expressed disbelief that climate change wasn’t mentioned once in the Autumn Budget and that the government even suggested last year that they might use flexibilities to allow themselves a pass on future targets.

In this respect the panel echoes the views of environmentalists and the clean energy sector. The government consistently talks about the growing and innovative low carbon space – in the UK there are almost 400,000 jobs in low carbon business and government thinks there is the potential to support two million by 2030. The huge growth has in large part been driven by ambitious decarbonisation targets. Why throw on the breaks now as the UK has the potential to become a real world leader?

Next week delegates and signatories of the Paris agreement will meet in Katowice, Poland for COP24 to discuss the rules of the Paris agreement and how to implement them. Following the landmark UN report, one thing that will be examined is whether the targets need to be bolstered to be more ambitious.

In 2008 there was a great optimism that the UK would be the world leader on climate change and drive the low carbon economy of the future. Are we driving the low carbon economy of the future? Perhaps in part. Are we leading the world on climate change? Probably not.  Can we fulfil our responsibilities as a nation? That is for government to decide.