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Climate change

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More information on climate change

Our Law and Your Environment website has more information on climate change.

Climate Change information on Law and Your Environment

Climate change law has developed to try to prevent and combat the problems that arise from climate change. UKELA's climate change working party considers a wide range of issues relating to the science, policy and law of climate change.


UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. It sets the framework for intergovernmental action against climate change. The objective was to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level to avoid dangerous climate change. A non-binding commitment was placed on developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

Kyoto Protocol

Introduced in 1997 and finally in force in 2005, this is the first international treaty to set legally binding emissions reduction targets on the developed countries that have ratified it. Developed countries (listed in Annex 1) agreed to targets to reduce their overall emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels for the period 2008-2012. Only Annex 1 countries have legally binding emissions reduction targets (for example the European Union and its member states agreed to reduce their emissions from 1990 levels by 8 per cent). The Protocol also established flexible mechanisms to help Annex 1 countries cut the cost of reducing their emissions targets and opened the possibility for a system of trading between Annex I parties.

These market-based mechanisms allow parties to earn and trade emissions credits through projects implemented either in other developed countries (Joint Implementation) or in developing countries (Clean Development Mechanism) which they can use towards meeting their commitments.

Copenhagen Accord

The non-binding Copenhagen Accord was agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Under the Copenhagen Accord countries agreed voluntarily to take action in order to stop the average global temperature rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. The Accord also provided for funding to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and take mitigation measures. It set an immediate target for assistance totalling 30 billion dollars between 2010 and 2012. This figure will rise to 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The Copenhagen Accord was regarded as a disappointing outcome by environmentalists who had hoped for an ambitious new, legally binding global agreement with specific emissions reductions targets applying after 2012 (the deadline for cuts under Kyoto).

Cancun Agreements

The sixteenth conference of the parties was held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010.

The Kyoto Protocol negotiating stream again failed to secure a new binding agreement for emissions reductions after 2012. In the resulting 2 page text parties instead agreed to aim to complete work to extend Kyoto ‘as early as possible and in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods’. They ‘took note’ of voluntary pledges under the Copenhagen accord and urged developed countries (Annex I parties) to raise the level of ambition of emission reductions targets.

The non-Kyoto negotiating stream made more progress. Amongst other things, the 29 page text:

  • retains the UNFCCC objective of keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius
  • addresses ‘nationally appropriate’ mitigation commitments or actions by developed and developing country parties
  • calls for enhanced action on adaptation
  • and establishes the legal framework for the Green Climate Fund to support developing country mitigation and adaptation measures.

The text does not include any binding obligations or enforcement mechanisms.

European Union

The EU Emissions Trading System

This system was introduced in January 2005 and is one of the key instruments of the EU’s Climate Change Strategy. The system puts a price on carbon used by businesses. Each member state draws up a national plan indicating the allowances that they intend to allocate to relevant installations (typically heavy industry). An allowance is the right to emit a ton of carbon dioxide, or an amount of any other greenhouse gas with an equivalent global warming potential, during a specified period. Companies can emit in excess of their allowances by purchasing on the market from other companies with excess allowances. The system has been running in phases. Phase I ran from 2005-2007. More sectors were brought with the system for Phase II, which runs from 2008 to 2012. Aviation will be included from 1 January 2012. Phase III will run from 2013-2020.

Energy Efficiency

Specific measures have been adopted to improve the energy performance of buildings and the labelling of energy-using products. There are also plans to introduce mandatory emissions standards for vehicles to achieve the threshold of 120g of CO2/km by 2012.

Renewable Energy

The EU’s goal is to ensure that 20% of European energy consumption comes from renewable energy sources by 2020. Measures exist to promote renewable energy sources and to develop markets in the biomass and biodiesel sectors.


Climate Change Programme

This is the UK’s key strategy to tackle climate change, setting out the policies and measures which the UK is using to cut its emissions of greenhouse gases.

Climate Change Act 2008

The Act sets the framework the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. It establishes the independent Committee on Climate Change, provides for 5 year carbon budgets to be set, and potentially enables the Government to extend carbon trading. On 30 June 2010, the Committee on Climate Change published its second annual report to Parliament on the progress that Government is making in meeting carbon budgets and in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (see link below).

CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme

A new mandatory emissions trading scheme known as the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme was introduced on 1 April 2010. The scheme aims to improve energy efficiency of large non-energy intensive public and private sector organisations.


Renewable fuels and energy play a key part in the UK’s Climate Change Programme and the Renewables Obligation is the key support mechanism for the expansion of renewable electricity - although Feed-In Tariffs, introduced in April 2010, are expected to encourage renewable generation at a smaller scale.

The Renewables Obligation obliges licensed electricity suppliers to source a specific portion of the electricity they supply from renewable sources. Generators of qualifying renewable energy are awarded Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) based on their output. Suppliers satisfy their renewables obligation by surrendering sufficient ROCs (to Ofgem) or else paying into a buy-out fund. The Renewables Obligation therefore provides renewable electricity generators with an additional revenue stream.

The Feed-In Tarif requires suppliers to pay a guaranteed amount or tariff for energy generated or "fed into" the grid.

Carbon Offsetting

Offsetting is a way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon dioxide saving and the Government is trying to establish a voluntary Code of Practice.

Carbon Capture and Storage

CCS involves the capture of carbon dioxide, its transportation to a permanent storage facility, and the storage of the captured C02 deep underground. CCS is still in the early stages of development but it is hoped that it will enable thermal power stations (and perhaps heavy industry) to dramatically reduce their C02 output. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme has proposed that C02 which has been captured and stored will be regarded as not having been emitted (and therefore no allowances would be required to be surrendered in respect of it).

Useful Links for Climate Change

UKELA's Climate Change Working Group

Department for Energy and Climate Change

The Climate Change Act 2008

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The Kyoto Protocol

The Copenhagen Accord

The UK's Committee on Climate Change Report (June 2010)

The UK's CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme

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