The Political Sustainability of the 2008 Climate Change Act
By: Dr Matthew Lockwood, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter
EPG Working Paper: 1302
This paper assesses the forces working for and against the political sustainability of the 2008 Climate Change Act. The adoption of the Act is often seen as a landmark commitment by the UK to action on climate change, but its implementation has not been studied in any depth. Recent events, including disagreements over the fourth carbon budget and the decarbonisation of the electricity sector, shows that while the Act attempted to lock-in a commitment to reducing emissions through legal means, this does not guarantee political lock-in. The assumption, made by some proponents of a legal mechanism, that accountability of political leaders to a public concerned about climate change, via Parliament, would provide the main political underpinning to the Act is criticised. An issue-attention cycle in the mid-2000s helps explain why a Climate Change Bill was adopted, but the wider evidence on the salience of climate change relative to other issues, especially energy costs, suggests that this assumption is not justified. An analysis of alternative sources of political durability is presented, drawing on a framework for understanding the sustainability of reform developed by Eric Patashnik. It is argued that the Act has helped create major institutional transformations, although the degree to which new institutions have displaced the power of existing ones is limited. The Act has produced some policy feedback effects, especially in the business community, and some limited investment effects, but both have been insufficient to withstand destabilisation by recent party political conflicts. The Climate Change Act remains at risk.
Keywords: Climate change, climate policy, energy policy, public opinion, politics, UK
Contact: Dr Matthew Lockwood, M.Lockwood@exeter.ac.uk
Date: January 2013