Climate change in the United Kingdom

Instrumental record of global average temperatures as compiled by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office.

Climate in the United Kingdom has been a subject of protests and controversies and various policies have been developed to mitigate its effects. It is estimated to demand at least 80-85% emission reductions in the EU during 2008-2050 with reductions as soon as technically possible.[1] The UK Government has a commitment to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by 50% on 1990 levels by 2025 and by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.


Cumulative CO2 emissions, 1850–2007, per current inhabitant for selected countries[2]
CountryEmissions (tonnes CO2)
United Kingdom1,127
United States1,126
Czech Republic1,006
Trinidad & Tobago582

The emissions for 2012 were 581 MtCO2e in total and 7.7 tonnes per capita. CO2 emissions have reduced 17 % from 1990 to 2012 compared to 21 % in Germany.[3]

Import related emissions of the United Kingdom were 35% in 1992 and 67% in 2004. Consumer emissions have risen steadily over the period 1992-2004 and are in 2004 18% higher than in 1992, while the national total emissions reported to the UNFCCC in 1992-2004 have declined by 5%.[4]

The Committee on Climate Change, an independent body which advises the UK and devolved Government, publish annual progress reports in respect to control the climate change in the United Kingdom. Meeting future carbon budgets UK will require reducing emissions by at least 3% a year. According to the report in June 2013 emissions of greenhouse gases increased by 3.5% in 2012 due to cold winter compared to 2011 and coal in power generation. UK 594 MtCO2e emissions by sectors in 2011 were 24% power, 19% industry, 18% land transport, 14% buildings, ca 1% agriculture and LULUCF and ca 1% aviation.[5] Emission increase was biggest in aviation: Air transport in the United Kingdom CO2 emissions increased from ca 17 MtCO2 in 1990 to 35 MtCO2 in 2011.[6][7]


UK peatlands cover around 23,000 km2 or 9.5% of the UK land area and store at least 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would equate to the total annual UK anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy peat bogs have a net long-term ‘cooling’ effect on the climate. Peatlands rely on water. When drained, peatlands waste away through oxidation, adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Damaged and degraded peatlands place a substantial financial burden on society because of increased greenhouse gas emissions, poorer water quality and loss of other ecosystem services. [8]


There is in place national legislation, international agreements and the EU directives. The EU directive 2001/77/EU promotes renewable energy in the electricity production.

The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which aims to boost the number of heat and electricity microgeneration installations in the United Kingdom, so helping to cut carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty.

The Climate Change Act 2008 makes it the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six Kyoto greenhouse gases for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.

Stern Review

The British government and the economist Nicholas Stern published the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change in 2006. The report states that climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, presenting a unique challenge for economics. The Review provides prescriptions including environmental taxes to minimise economic and social disruptions. The Stern Review's main conclusion is that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs of not acting.[9] The Review points to the potential impacts of climate change on water resources, food production, health, and the environment. According to the Review, without action, the overall costs of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, now and forever. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20% of GDP or more.

No-one can predict the consequences of climate change with complete certainty; but we now know enough to understand the risks. The review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.[10]

Stern's review came in for much criticism at the time. Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at Cambridge University said that Stern's assumptions would require the current generation to save 97.5 cents of every dollar produced: 'so patently absurd that we must reject it out of hand . . . the cause is not served when parameter values are so chosen that they yield the desired answers.' William Nordhaus, an economist from Yale, said the Stern Review should be read primarily as 'a document that is political in nature and has advocacy as its purpose.' This assessment seems to be justified by this statement within the Review itself: 'Much of public policy is actually about changing attitudes.'


The Climate Change Programme was launched in November 2000 by the British government in response to its commitment agreed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

London Green500 is a programme to reduce the carbon emissions of the London city organisations including new building by 60% by 2025. Urban areas account for 75% of world CO2 emissions, but less than 1% of the Earth's surface.[11]

Energy alternatives

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the RSPB The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds wrote in 2013: Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet? According to Princeton academic Timothy Searchinger the use of whole trees may increase greenhouse gas emissions by at least 49% compared to using coal over 40 years.[12]

Extreme weather

By 2014 the United Kingdom's seven warmest and 4 out of its 5 wettest years had occurred between the years of 2000-2014. Higher temperatures increase evaporation and consequently rainfall. In 2014 England recorded its wettest winter in over 250 years with widespread flooding. [13]


According to the Government the number of households in the flood risk will be up to 970,000 homes in the 2020s, up from around 370,000 in January 2012.[14]

The Friends of the Earth criticised British government of the intended cuts to flood defence spending. The protection against increasing flood risk as a result of climate change requires rising investment. In 2009, the Environment Agency calculated that UK need to be spending £20m more compared to 2010–11 as the baseline, each and every year out to 2035, just to keep pace with climate change.[15]

According to the Met Office figures for December 2013 and January 2014 combined were the wettest since records began in 1910. The effects of flooding and managing flood risk cost the country about £2.2bn a year, compared with the less than £1bn spent on flood protection and management.[16]

In February 2014 during the British flooding the Church of England said that it will pull its investments from companies that fail to do enough to fight the "great demon" of climate change and ignore the church's theological, moral and social priorities.[17]


Year 2014 is estimated as England’s hottest year in over 350 years with climate change contribution. [13]

EU energy plan 2008

At the end of 2008 the EU parliament approved the climate and energy plan including:[1] - 20% emission cut of climate gases from 1990 to 2020 - 20% increase in the share of renewable energy from 1990 to 2020 - 20% increase of the energy efficiency 20% from 1990 to 2020.

UK energy plan 2016

The UK have legally bound by the Climate Change Act to reduce emissions 80% by 2050, but a new law mandating a 100% cut is under discussion in 2016.[18]

Renewable energy

New wind power is expected to be installed 1-1.5 GW onshore and 1-2 GW offshore annually in 2008-2022.[7]

Figure 7 of the document show the UK target to increase the share of renewable energy from 2008 to 2020 and the increase in the energy efficiency.[19]


According to the government's climate advisers study in the end of 2013 Britain can save £85bn a year if it meets its carbon targets. Plan is to cut emissions by half in the mid-2020s. Less use of fossil fuels and increased energy efficiency reduce cost in air quality, health costs, energy bills, noise, wildlife, water, waste, traffic congestion and road accidents[20]


A number of lobby groups in the UK focus on climate change including Friends of the Earth (who ran the Big Ask Campaign), Stop Climate Chaos coalition, the UK Youth Climate Coalition, Campaign against Climate Change, and

Climatic Research Unit email controversy

The Climatic Research Unit email controversy (also known as "Climategate") began in November 2009 with the hacking of a server at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia by an external attacker. Several weeks before the Copenhagen Summit on climate change, an unknown individual or group breached CRU's server and copied thousands of emails and computer files to various locations on the Internet.

The story was first broken by climate change critics on their blogs, with columnist James Delingpole popularising the term "Climategate" to describe the controversy. Climate change critics and others denying the significance of human caused climate change argued that the emails showed that global warming was a scientific conspiracy, in which they alleged that scientists manipulated climate data and attempted to suppress critics. The accusations were rejected by the CRU, who said that the emails had been taken out of context and merely reflected an honest exchange of ideas.

The mainstream media picked up the story as negotiations over climate change mitigation began in Copenhagen on 7 December. Because of the timing, scientists, policy makers and public relations experts said that the release of emails was a smear campaign intended to undermine the climate conference. In response to the controversy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Meteorological Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists released statements supporting the scientific consensus that the Earth's mean surface temperature had been rising for decades.

Eight committees investigated the allegations and published reports, finding no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct. However, the reports called on the scientists to avoid any such allegations in the future by taking steps to regain public confidence in their work, for example by opening up access to their supporting data, processing methods and software, and by promptly honouring freedom of information requests. The scientific consensus that global warming is occurring as a result of human activity remained unchanged throughout the investigations.

Controversial screening of a climate change film in state schools

Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education and Skills was a case heard in September–October 2007 in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, concerning the permissibility of the government providing Al Gore's climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth to English state schools as a teaching aid.

The case was brought by Stewart Dimmock, a lorry (HGV) driver and school governor from Kent, England, a father of two sons who attend a state school. Dimmock has twice stood as a local election candidate for the New Party and received backing for the case from Viscount Monckton, the author of the New Party's manifesto. Monckton, one of the UK's most prominent climate change sceptics, launched an advertising campaign against Al Gore in March, 2007 challenging Gore to a public debate on climate change. Monckton has received funding from a Washington-based conservative think tank of which he is chief policy adviser, the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), to create a film, Apocalypse No, which will parody Gore, showing Monckton presenting a slide show making an attack on climate change science.

The plaintiff sought to prevent the educational use of An Inconvenient Truth on the grounds that schools are legally required to provide a balanced presentation of political issues. The court ruled that the film was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could continue to be shown, but it had a degree of political bias such that teachers would be required to explain the context via guidance notes issued to schools along with the film. The court also identified nine of what the plaintiff called 'errors' in the film which were departures from the scientific mainstream, and ruled that the guidance notes must address these items specifically.

See also


  1. 1 2 Ilmastonmuutos otettiin yhä vakavammin yle 30.12.2008 (in Finnish)
  2. Which nations are really responsible for climate change - interactive map The Guardian 8.12.2011 (All goods and services consumed, source: Peters et al PNAS, 2011)
  3. Greenhouse gas emissions from the UK] the Guardian 18 February 2014
  4. Kenen ilmasto Like Helsinki 2010: Ville Veikko Hirvelä: Päästöjä lisäävät päästövähennykset ja päästöjä aiheuttava kuluttaminen pages 35-39, ref Wiedmann, T., Wood, R., Lenzen, M., Minx, J., Guan, D. and Barrett, J. (2008) Development of an embedded carbon emissions indicator
  5. "UK Emissions by Sectors 2011".
  6. Aviation in UK June 2013
  7. 1 2 SUMMARY: Fifth statutory report to Parliament on progress towards meeting carbon budgets REPORT June 2013
  8. SUMMARY IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands Summary of Findings October 2011
  9. Stern, N. (2006). "Summary of Conclusions". Executive summary (short) (PDF). Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change (pre-publication edition). HM Treasury. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  10. Sir Nicholas Stern: Stern Review : The Economics of Climate Change, Executive Summary,10/2006 Archived September 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. "About Green 500".
  12. Dirtier than coal? Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet 2013
  13. 1 2 2014 on track to be England's hottest year in over three centuries The Guardian 3 December 2014
  14. Government gambles by excluding climate change from flood insurance deal FOE 6 December 2013
  15. Cameron's claims on flood defences don't stack up FOE 6 January 2014
  16. England's floods – everything you need to know The Guardian11 January 2014
  17. Jones, Sam (12 February 2014). "Church of England vows to fight 'great demon' of climate change". the Guardian.
  18. Zero carbon emissions target to be enshrined in UK law The Guardian 14.11.2016
  20. Carbon targets can help UK 'save £85bn a year' The Guardian 11 December 2013
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