Climate change


What is climate change and how does it affect the UK? 

Climate change is caused by global heating, in turn caused by a continual manmade rise in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. This rise is due above all to burning fossil fuels, as well as agriculture, deforestation and industry. Climate change is a global problem affecting countries in different ways, but on average the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by about 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period.  

Historically, the UK accounted for over half of global emissions until 1882, due to the Industrial Revolution. We therefore have a leading role to play in international efforts to reduce carbon emissions globally. In the UK climate change is leading to increasing weather extremes, droughts and flood risks. All ten of the warmest years in the UK have occurred since 1990. A new heat record was set in July 2022 of 40.3C in Lincolnshire, with this record-breaking heatwave 10 times more likely to occur due to climate change.
The UK is part of the Paris Agreement, in which 195 countries agreed to minimise emissions and keep post-industrial global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, aiming for 1.5. It hosted COP26 in Glasgow as part of this international framework. Whilst these targets are in jeopardy there is still hope; we need to take urgent action across society to reduce emissions now and over the next 5-10 years.
You can click on the headings below for an overview of UK law and policy and links with further information.


Law and policy


The UK's flagship legislation for climate change is the Climate Change Act 2008. This Act sets the UK's 'net zero' target - a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050. This is a UK-wide target and includes emissions from the devolved administrations, which make up about 20% of UK emissions.

The Act also requires the Government to prepare 'carbon budgets' which set targets for five-year periods. The Secretary of State must produce policies to meet those five-year targets. The devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales create their own climate change law and policy and to support implementation of UK-wide policies. The Government must also prepare Climate Change Risk Assessments and National Adaptation Programmes

The Climate Change Committee provides advice to the UK and devolved governments on their policies and tracks the progress of the UK and the devolved administrations on their targets. The Committee's advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037) recommended policies to support low-carbon energy use. The key message of the 2022 Progress Report was: "The UK Government now has a solid net zero strategy in place, but important policy gaps remain." The Committee has also provided reports on progress in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


Climate law and policy across the four nations


No content found

No content found

No content found


Nothing on this site constitutes legal advice. Specialist legal advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. The contents of this site are for general information purposes only. Further information can be found on UKELA’s Terms of use page.

If you need specific advice, see the page Further support for potential providers of legal advice and support.