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United Kingdom

The ECF’s UK programme exists to maintain and strengthen the country’s history of strong societal consensus for decarbonisation and high environmental standards. We want to ensure the UK continues to build a strong leadership role on climate change in the run-up to the next major UN climate summit, which it will host in Scotland in 2020 (COP26), through new actions at the domestic and international levels.

Bogdan Todoran Vyvgzhlkib8 Unsplash

Key challenges

  • Preserving the UK’s climate leadership post Brexit: Eighty percent of the UK’s environmental laws have been forged through its membership in the EU. EU policies have been responsible for 40% of the UK’s emissions reductions since 1990 and have been projected to account for 55% of future reductions through 2030. Failure to defend and improve climate and environmental protections through new domestic laws (and an independent regulator to enforce them) as well as post-Brexit trade agreements would endanger the high standards that Britain has become known for around the world.
  • Overhauling the transport sector: The UK has made huge progress in decarbonising electricity, largely thanks to its coal phase-out and offshore wind investment. Now transport has taken on increased importance as not only the UK’s largest GHG-emitting sector, but one where emissions continue to grow. Air pollutants from transport are also a major contributor to a public health crisis that claims the lives of an estimated 40,000 people a year and blights the lives of many more, while costing the economy billions of pounds a year. Weak political will, a strong diesel lobby, and the stubborn persistence of a car-based culture are key challenges.
  • Culture wars around climate action: Some groups may try to weaponise the climate debate by preying on familiar narratives and turning it into a deeply partisan, polarising issue, as it has become in the United States and Australia. This risks shattering the ten-year political consensus following assent for the Climate Change Act (2008) and support for a new target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This division is exacerbated by growing concerns about the difficulties of decarbonising certain sectors such as heating, as well as the suppression of nuanced discussion in social media.


  • Sustaining high climate and environmental standards: We must continue to drive deep emissions reductions, prevent a deregulatory surge post Brexit, and seize on new opportunities for policy innovation. We must also ensure that new UK trade agreements are aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
  • Accelerating decarbonisation of the road transport sector: Decarbonisation of the transport sector is crucial if the UK is to meet its emissions target and improve air quality. Transport is also an opportunity for the UK to pioneer globally applicable solutions, as it did with the Climate Change Act, the coal phase-out, and offshore wind investment.
  • Broadening and strengthening societal support for climate action: We must defuse the emerging culture war narrative before it leaks into policy shifts based on misguided perceptions of what will resonate with key electoral demographics. We need to better understand our audiences and their values, and invest in work that will strengthen the societal consensus for climate action. We must take advantage of the UK’s role as a cultural and media superpower to inform the global conversation about climate issues.
  • Building the cross-party political support required for UK leadership on climate change: We need to champion the clean growth narrative and advocate for delivery on Britain’s net zero target, while addressing key policy concerns through political engagement across the political spectrum. We must amplify and leverage UK initiatives globally to help drive international momentum.
  • Pioneering new climate solutions with global applicability: The UK passed the world’s first climate law, delivered the world’s first coal phase-out, and was the first G7 economy to pass a legal target to reduce emissions to net zero. We will seek to build on these innovations with new policy, technological and change-making approaches that can be applied in other geographies.

How we work

The ECF identifies gaps in the UK response to climate change by funding organisations and coalitions of stakeholders with the right expertise and public profile to address key issues at local or national level. We take a broad approach to the types of interventions we fund – from litigation and political caucusing to activism and media engagement – because all of this activity builds towards an ambitious and thoughtful movement that reflects the full diversity of our society. Together our grantees seek social and political transformation that will ensure a secure and sustainable future for all.