The UK may not be recognised as a champion for climate change, but that may be unfair


Jessica Simonds is a postgraduate student in Violence, Terrorism and Security at Queen’s University in Belfast. She is also a member of the action/2015 Youth Panel as a representative for the British Youth Council. Follow her experiences at the youth climate camp in Paris via twitter on @JKSimonds.

The UK may not be fully recognised for its ability to combat and champion climate change, but this author will argue that this may be unfair. As an island nation, we have been given the evidence of how our sea levels will rise and our land mass may be diminished. This could affect us in more ways than having to worry about adapting to smaller territory. Some see it as a national security concern, some see it as a moral concern, whereas others fear for our economy and physical safety. This article hopes to engage you in the topic of our legislation and our ambitions  

The UK government’s position on climate change is primarily about “adaptation and mitigation” (Walker, 2010). This means that not only do we have to adjust our natural and human systems in response to visible or predicted climatic effects, but that we have to actively prevent it getting worse by taking responsibility for our environment.

This might not seem very exciting, but this means that we have a wide scope as active citizens in what we can suggest as adaptation and mitigation – and innovation in the face of change is always exciting. What is really challenging for us to do in our critique of UK policy is outline the ways we have managed to ‘save’ our environment, as many of the goals agreed are long term and therefore we won’t be able to evaluate their impact until at least 2030.

In the meantime, we can judge the effort of our politicians and compare our policy to that of other countries who claim to do it better than us.

The adaptation and mitigation response is a positive reaction from the government as it shows they acknowledge climate change as a problem and are looking to address it proactively rather than waiting to deal with the consequences. What is really positive about the UK approach is the sense of responsibility the government has taken for our contribution to climate change and has outlined how we will tackle it.

In 2008 the Climate Change Act was passed and was the UK was the first to make this historic step to addressing climate change. This is our most recent form of specific legislation that addresses how we’re going to adapt and mitigate to climate change. It includes the following targets:

  • 2050 Target. The act commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels. This target was based on advice from the CCC report: Building a Low-carbon Economy. The 80% target includes GHG emissions from the devolved administrations, which currently accounts for around 20% of the UK’s total emissions.
  • Carbon Budgets. The Act requires the Government to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’. A carbon budget is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over a five-year period. The Committee provides advice on the appropriate level of each carbon budget  which are designed to reflect cost effective path to achieving the long terms objectives. The first four carbon budgets have been put into legislation and run up to 2027.
  • The Committee on Climate Change was set up to advice the Government on emissions targets, and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It includes the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) which scrutinises and advises on the Government’s programme for adapting to climate change.
  • A National Adaptation Plan requires the Government to assess the UK’s risks from climate change, prepare a strategy to address them, and encourage critical organisations to do the same. For more detail, visit the UK adaptation policy page (, 2008).

However,the targets that were suggested in this act have been criticised by many as being overly ambitious, such as “an 80% decrease in the carbon emissions based on those on 1990 by 2050….. 80%”!

In comparison, we can look at Denmark whose capital city of Copenhagen is rated the “greenest city in the whole of Europe” (Copenhagen Convention Bureau, 2014). Denmark not only claims their responsibility in managing their own emissions, but hopes to be a flagship example to the rest of the world (although Sweden has already managed to beat them as greenest country). Also in comparison to our widely criticised target of reducing emissions by 80%, Denmark is fairly confident in their ability to completely eradicate their “emissions by 100% by 2050″ (Bjørn, 2015), so as a nation, we have a long way to go in changing our lifestyles and mentality to accommodate cleaner and greener living.

Going forward, the UK will be attending the Paris summit envisioning what has been described as the “fight of the century” (EuroParl, 2015), not only for decreasing our emissions and coming together with a sense of comradeship, but to ensure the safety of our economies, ensure physical and securitized resilience and create ambitious targets that we can work together on achieving the goals of.

If you want to engage with UK policy, be sure to contact your MP and ask them what their commitments will be following the Paris talks; find out who your MP is here.  

Works Cited

Bjørn, R., 2015. Helveg: Denmark is taking responsibility for the climate. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed 19 Novemner 2015].

Copenhagen Convention Bureau, 2014. Copenhagen is world’s greenest city – again!. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed 19 November 2015].

EuroParl, 2015. “We are facing the fight of the century.” The Battle to stem climate change. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed 19 November 2015]., 2008. Climate Change Act 2008. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed 19 November 2015].

Walker, M., 2010. Adapting to Climate Change: the UK approach, London: DEFRA.


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The UK may not be recognised as a champion for climate change, but that may be unfair

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min