UK Climate Change Act

The United Kingdom's political climate of 2007–2008 provided a window of opportunity that led to the Climate Change Act of 2008, a good example of a SIP (in this case a shift). The Act established the world's first national legislation mandating greenhouse gas reductions by 2050 of 80% relative to 1990 levels, unconditional on other countries' actions.

 

Actor(s)

UK Parliament

 

Trigger (intervention)

Although the Act itself did not immediately kick the system into a new state, it shifted the institutional conditions under which future governments decide on climate policy. It created new institutional bodies, including the expert-led Committee on Climate Change, tasked with formulating carbon budgets every 5 years and reporting regularly to Parliament and the cabinet. Government policies that fall short are publicly exposed, giving rise to legal challenges. By creating a long-term goal, an independent review body, and a regular ratcheting cycle, the Act makes it more difficult for future governments to backslide and creates additional pressure for ambitious steps in the future, creating self-fulfilling beliefs in the post-carbon transition. Over the decade since 2008, CO2 emissions in the UK have fallen dramatically.

 

Criticality

Drafted by a small number of policy entrepreneurs from NGOs, academia, and Parliament in the wake of the government-sponsored Stern Review on the economics of climate change, the Act passed with a near-unanimous vote during a rare multiparty consensus prior to the 2009 UN climate meeting in Copenhagen.

 

Feedback Dynamics

A number of super-national, national and sub-national governments have developed legislation based on the UK Climate Change Act. Fort instance, the Paris Agreement mimicked the ratcheting mechanism. The Victorian state government in Australia has passed a Climate Change Act based on the UK Climate Change Act. Countries such as New Zealand, Chile, and Sweden are looking at similar approaches. The feedback dynamic of good policy is that good policy might diffuse to other regions and jurisdictions.

 

Timescale and scaleability

Considering that the feedback affect of this policy is the development of aligned policies in many other countries, the timescale for this SIP is relatively long. Multilateral policy efforts take a long time to develop, coordinate, and negotiate. The progress made between the UK Climate Change Act in 2008 and the Paris Agreement in 2015 would in many circumstances be considered remarkable. However, with the interceding election of nationalist governments in the United States, the UK, and many other countries, it is uncertain whether countries can continue to build stronger multilateral policy collaborations. Further, it is unclear whether the loose and voluntary framework of the Paris Agreement, which politically palateable, is sufficient to deliver ambitious climate change mitigation which is required.

 

Resistance

Attempts to establish similar legislation in other countries has received considerable resistance in fossil fuel exporting nations.

 

Author

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