Key details of new climate laws

Three separate pieces of legislation have all gained Royal Assent as the government attempts a joined-up approach to tackling climate change. Here are some details of the new Acts and what they will mean.

The Climate Change Act

Key elements of the legislation:

  • The Act sets an ambitious long-term target to cut the UK's emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. It also sets a target, soon to be revised, for 2020 and requires the government to set five-year "carbon budgets" for cutting emissions.
  • The law also establishes the Committee on Climate Change which advises the government on what the carbon budgets should be and reports on progress towards meeting the emissions targets.
  • Under the Act, the government is required to report and take steps to address the impacts of climate change on the UK.
  • There are also measures to introduce "pay-as-you-throw" rubbish schemes to encourage recycling and powers to ensure retailers cut the number of single-use plastic bags given to shoppers.

The significance of the law:

  • The Climate Change Act makes the UK the first country in the world to set ambitious legally-binding targets for cutting its emissions. The government hopes it will facilitate the transition to the kind of low-carbon economy needed to tackle climate change, by giving business and the public sector the confidence in clean technology.
  • Ministers also believes it will enhance the UK's position as a global leader on the issue as we head into the final leg of negotiations on a post-Kyoto international deal on global warming.
  • In the future meeting our emissions reduction obligations will affect every area of our lives, from the energy efficiency of the products we buy, to new housing developments, waste collections and our electricity bills.

The Energy Act

Key elements of the legislation:

  • The law contains measures to bring in feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewable energy generation, which would pay householders, businesses and communities a guaranteed price for generating power from sources such as solar panels or wind turbines.
  • It also strengthens the Renewables Obligation, which requires energy suppliers to source a percentage of their power from green technology, to drive the roll-out of renewable energy in the UK.
  • It sets up the regulatory framework which will be needed to develop technology to capture and store carbon emitted from fossil fuel power stations and enables Ofgem to run the offshore power generation regime more effectively.
  • It has measures to introduce smart meters which can help consumers see how much energy they are using and incentives for producing heat from renewable sources.
  • It also has rules on new nuclear power stations and offshore gas licensing and infrastructure.

The significance of the law:

  • The Energy Act aims to facilitate low-carbon energy generation, enabling the UK to meet EU targets under which we will have to produce 15 per cent of all our energy from renewables by 2020.
  • The government hopes it will enable an energy mix that will allow us to meet our climate change commitments and secure our future energy supply.
  • Measures such as the Renewables Obligation add to the cost of energy bills, but the addition of feed-in tariffs into the Act could make on-site energy generation a much more attractive proposition for homes, businesses and communities.

The Planning Act

Key elements of the legislation:

  • The Act will usher in a new system for approving major infrastructure of national importance - such as nuclear power plants and wind farms.
  • Under the new law, decisions on major projects would be taken by a new Infrastructure Planning Commission, with the decisions based on national policy statements put forward on areas such as energy, aviation and transport networks.
  • The commission's decision making process will be timetabled and the Secretary of State will no longer have the final say on projects.
  • The Act introduces a new community infrastructure levy on developments to raise money for facilities such as schools and hospitals.
  • Planning appeals for minor developments will be heard by a panel of local councillors instead of a planning inspector.

The significance of the legislation:

  • The Planning Act is the final piece in the jigsaw of legislation which aims to deliver on climate change goals, but has proved the most controversial.
  • The government says the new law will streamline decisions and avoid long public inquiries, helping build a new generation of renewable energy infrastructures.
  • But critics are concerned the law, and particularly the creation of a new Independent Planning Commission, will make the planning system undemocratic and allow through environmentally unfriendly developments such as airports and major roads.

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