The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act was one of the first laws to recognise carbon limits and commit to binding targets

The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act was one of the first pieces of national legislation to recognise carbon limits and to commit successive governments to binding emissions targets. Its overall aim is a greenhouse gas reduction of 80 percent between 1990 and 2050.

The Act requires the UK Government to set legally binding ‘carbon budgets’ (amount of greenhouse gases that can be delivered) for five-year periods. Alongside this Act, a Committee on Climate Change was set up to advise the government on these targets and to report on progress towards achieving them. Its recent report shows a lower than expected rate of implementation.

The contribution of approaches of this kind to the wider objective of sustainable development has been questioned. The focus on scientifically determined targets without reference to, or engagement with, social and political dimensions may reduce its effectiveness. For example, Warren Pearce argues in a Guardian blog that the policy approach of targets, particularly those developed under New Labour, can lead to ‘gaming’ rather than, say, a desired reduction in carbon intensity. Furthermore, says the blog, democratic discussion and debate, not only expert consensus, are required in order to better implement the Act.