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UK Climate Change Act–Costs and Implications

November 14, 2011



Climate Change Act 2008

The UK Climate Change Act was passed by Parliament in 2008 by an almost unanimous vote. The Act committed the UK to reducing CO2 emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 at a huge cost. Even on the government’s own official figures the annual cost would be as much as £18.3 billion p.a., something of the order of £800 per household. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government, acknowledges that separate analyses by the IPCC, International Energy Agency and the Stern Review all point to a cost of up to 3% of GDP, which at current levels would mean a cost of £42 billion p.a. or over £1800 per household.

So obviously spending so much money must mean the benefits are going to be huge? Well, er, no, not really.

Obviously the main objective of the Act is to make a contribution to limiting the rise in global temperatures that scientists believe will result from CO2 emissions. So, just how much difference will the Act make to global temperatures if the target of an 80% reduction is achieved? I asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change, under a Freedom of Information request, whether they had asked for or received any scientific advice concerning the estimated effect on temperatures the Act would have. Quite astonishingly the reply came back – Such advice has not been sought”.

Nevertheless we can make a few quick calculations ourselves, based on some of the assumptions made by the Committee of Climate Change, the official body that advises the government.

The UK’s CO2 emissions in 1990 were 568 million tonnes, so a reduction of 80% would reduce this to 114 million. As the UK’s emissions had already dropped to 524 million by 2008, the actual planned reduction from now on would be 410 million tonnes.

According to the Committee, reducing global emissions to 20 billion tonnes by 2050 would keep the temperature increase down to about 2C by 2100. They also give a scenario using 24 billion tonnes, which produces a temperature increase of “under 2.2C” by 2100. ( These scenarios assume CO2 concentrations of 460ppm and 480ppm by 2200 respectively). These estimates are very much at the high end of the spectrum, bearing in mind that the generally accepted assumption is about 1C of warming for a doubling of CO2, with no feedbacks built in. (Current CO2 levels are around 380ppm.)

Nevertheless, working on these figures, how much extra warming would occur if the UK did not reduce its emissions? In other words, what would the temperature increase be if the global emissions were 20 billion plus 410 million instead of 20 billion?

410 million = 10.2% of 4 billion.

4 billion = 0.2C increase.

Therefore, 0.2C x 10.2% = 0.0204C.

A fiftieth of a degree? Is that it? Is that what we are being asked to spend hundred of billions for?

Let’s put it into perspective. The annual temperature differential between Sheffield and London, which is 150 miles south, is approximately 1C. Therefore a temperature increase of 0.02C would equate to about 3 miles. I am being asked to spend £800 p.a. in order to avoid having the same climate as my mother-in-law down the road. (Yes, I know, the effect is logarithmic, not linear, so I might be a mile or two out. On the other hand, as global emissions are likely to be much higher than 20 billion (currently 33 billion), the effect will be much less than 3 miles – maybe the length of my garden!)

So why did they do it?


It is easy to see why the government did not ask any of these questions; they would not have liked the answers. So how do they attempt to justify the Act?

The answer lies in the recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change to Ed Miliband, then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on 7th Oct 2008.

“The UK should aim to reduce Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. This would be an appropriate UK contribution to a global deal aiming to reduce Kyoto gas emissions to between 20-24 billion tonnes by 2050 (between 50-60% below current levels”.

In other words, this has been deemed to be the UK’s fair share. But how has our share been worked out? The report from the Committee goes on to say :-

“It is difficult to imagine a global deal which allows the developed countries to have emissions per capita in 2050 which are significantly above a sustainable global average. In 2050 the global average, based on an estimated population of 9.2 billion, would be between 2.1 to 2.6 tonnes per capita, implying an 80% cut in UK Kyoto GHG emissions from 1990 levels.”

So the UK and other developed countries will be allowed to produce no more CO2 per head than undeveloped ones. Forget about the fact that we often live in colder climates and need to heat our homes, forget that we have industries that rely on energy, forget that our whole societies revolve around technologies that depend on energy, from computers to transport and hospitals to agriculture. Maybe a clue to this lies in a sentence in the report that discusses “the extent to which already industrialised countries should have to compensate for historic emission levels”, aka “paying for our sins”.

And will it make any difference?


I am sure our leaders will be able to bathe in the reflected glory of their magnanimous actions, secure in the knowledge that none of this ever will affect them or their generous salaries, perks and pensions. But will the sacrifice of the little people lead the world to a global deal and a slightly less warm future?

Remember the amount by which the UK must reduce CO2 emissions by? 410 million tonnes p.a.. Well, between 2009 and 2010 China and India increased their CO2 emissions by 954 million tonnes. So it took them 5 months to wipe out the saving we must make at such an expense over the next 40 years.


Truly the fools are in charge of the asylum.





1)The 2008 Report from the Committee on Climate Change is here.

2) CO2 figures are available from CDIAC here.

  1. Roger Longstaff permalink
    November 14, 2011 6:53 pm

    Just get rid of the bloody thing:

  2. November 15, 2011 1:27 pm

    Great article, but BLACK on white is so much easier for old and tired eyes to read. Hey – that’s why books are printed in black and white!

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