House of Commons Library

Climate change: an overview

Published Monday, January 6, 2020

A collection of overarching climate change-related briefings and publications.

UK policy on climate change

Climate change policy can broadly be described as relating to mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) or adaptation (adjusting to actual or expected climate change).

The Climate Change Act 2008 provides the framework for UK climate change policy. It established long-term statutory targets for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (otherwise known as decarbonisation). This requires policies to reduce emissions across the economy. The Act also established the Committee on Climate Change as an independent body to advise the Government and put in place the framework to promote adaptation action. 

Some overarching briefings, reports and resources on climate change mitigation and adaptation are included below. Due to the wide-ranging nature of this topic, sector-specific resources are not included on this page. 

House of Commons Library briefings

  • Library Insight on Acting on climate change: The plan for net zero emissions in the UK (20 December 2019): provides a short overview of net zero and what is likely to lead the debate in the new Parliament, including policies for reducing emissions in key sectors like transport, energy, housing and agriculture. 
  • Library Briefing paper on UK Carbon Budgets (9 July 2019): provides an overview of carbon budgets, decarbonisation, UK Government plans and progress against the targets. 
  • Library Briefing paper on Net Zero in the UK (16 December 2019): provides an explanation of the introduction of the UK's net zero by 2050 target, including the context for the emissions reduction target and a brief overview of relevant commentary and analysis of the Government's proposals.
  • Library Insight on Net Zero: a new UK climate change target? provides background to the Government's decision to amend the Climate Change Act 2008.
  • POSTnote on Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C (11 February 2019). 


House of Lords Library Briefing


Government guidance and independent advice


Select Committee inquiries and reports

  • The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee published a Report on Technologies for meeting Clean Growth emissions reductions targets on 22 August 2019. The report is awaiting a Government response. 
  • The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee has an inquiry on the Clean Growth Strategy. The oral evidence on this inquiry has concluded.  
  • The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has an open inquiry on Net zero government focusing on the sustainability of the Government’s estate and procurement processes and what action it needs to take to achieve its net zero emissions target by 2050 or sooner.

EU and Brexit

As an EU member state, the UK participates in EU mechanisms and is required to meet EU targets related to climate change. 

  • Library Briefing paper on Brexit: energy and climate change (see section 6) (5 September 2019): discusses key climate change policy in the UK, the status of related Brexit negotiations and the possible impact of Brexit on these policy areas, including in relation to a no deal scenario.

International climate change conferences

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the 1992 Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 196 States (including both the EU and the UK) which each constitute the “Parties” to the Convention. The objective of the Treaty, set out in article 2 of the Convention, is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Every year a Conference of the Parties takes place (known as COPs).

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8666

Author: Sara Priestley

Topic: Climate change

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