High Court rules UK “net zero by 2050” plan is too vague, with no clear policy pathway
The high court has ordered the UK government to outline exactly how its “net zero” greenhouse gas (GHG) policies will achieve CO2 emissions targets by 2050. Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project had made a legal challenge about the government’s vague climate change strategy, as it lacks the necessary policies to achieve its targets. Now Justice David Holgate has ruled that the plan is unlawful, regarding government obligations under the Climate Change Act. The government does not know how various individual policies could contribute to achieving the legally binding climate target, and therefore could not properly assess the plan’s credibility. Judge Holgate said a detailed and quantified explanation of how the policies would achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050 was important for holding ministers to account and for “transparency”, for everyone to understand. He ordered ministers to publish an updated strategy by the end of March 2023. The Climate Change Committee has aid there was “scant evidence” of delivery against the high-level target, with major policy gaps in key areas – such as aviation.
Court orders UK government to explain how net zero policies will reach targets
Green activists brought challenge, arguing climate change strategy did not spell out how carbon emissions cuts would be achieved
By Damien Gayle (The Guardian) @damiengayle
Mon 18 Jul 2022
The high court has ordered the government to outline exactly how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets, after a legal challenge from environmental groups.
Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project had all taken legal action over the government’s flagship climate change strategy, arguing it had illegally failed to include the policies it needed to deliver the promised emissions cuts.
In a judgment handed down late on Monday, Mr Justice Holgate said the strategy lacked any explanation or quantification of how the government’s plans would achieve the emissions target, and as such had failed to meet its obligations under Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008.
Environmental campaigners called the ruling, which came as the UK faced record-breaking temperatures, a “landmark” and “a breakthrough moment”, claiming it showed the net zero strategy was in breach of the CCA.
“We’re proud to have worked on this historic case,” said Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer with Friends of the Earth. “This landmark ruling is a huge victory for climate justice and government transparency.
“It shows that the Climate Change Act is a piece of legislation which has teeth, and can, if necessary, be enforced through our court system if the government does not comply with its legal duties.”
Sam Hunter Jones, senior lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “This decision is a breakthrough moment in the fight against climate delay and inaction. It forces the government to put in place climate plans that will actually address the crisis.”
Holgate’s judgment did not find for the claimants on all grounds. But he ordered the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to prepare a report explaining how the policies outlined in the net zero strategy would contribute towards emissions reductions, and to present it to parliament by April 2023.
“The NZS did not go below national and sector levels to look at the contributions to emissions reductions made by individual policies (or by interacting policies) where assessed as being quantifiable,” Holgate said. “In my judgment it ought to have done so in order to comply with the language and statutory purposes of s.14 of the CCA 2008.”
Holgate also found that Greg Hands, the energy minister, signed off the net zero strategy despite not having the legally required information on how carbon budgets would be met.
The net zero strategy, published in October, included commitments to end the sales of new fossil fuel cars by 2030 and gas boilers by 2035. But it did not spell out how the strategy would be delivered or specify the cuts in emissions to be achieved in each sector.
The Guardian has contacted BEIS for comment.
Court rules UK plan to hit net zero target for emissions too vague
Government ordered to publish updated climate strategy with more detail by end of March 2023
By Camilla Hodgson (FT)
The UK government’s plan for reaching net zero emissions was unlawful because it provided insufficient detail for how the target would be met, a judge ruled in a high-profile climate case on Monday.
Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, launched the so-called net zero strategy last year. But neither he, nor the minister who approved the strategy on his behalf, knew how each individual policy would contribute to achieving the legally binding target, and therefore could not properly assess the credibility of the plan, Justice David Holgate said.
That was a breach of the government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act, the judge said.
A detailed and quantified explanation of how the policies would achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was important for holding ministers to account and for “transparency”, the judge said. He ordered ministers to publish an updated strategy by the end of March 2023.
“This decision is a breakthrough moment in the fight against climate delay and inaction. It forces the government to put in place climate plans that will actually address the crisis,” said Sam Hunter Jones, senior lawyer at environmental law charity Client Earth, one of the campaign groups that challenged the government.
“The decision confirms that the government must show how its plans will deliver the carbon budget targets in full,” he added.
The ruling came as the UK and large swaths of Europe endured record temperatures, with the UK predicted to hit 40C on Tuesday for the first time ever.
The government has come under repeated fire for lacking a detailed plan for how to achieve net zero. In June, the Climate Change Committee, which advises ministers, said there was “scant evidence” of delivery against the high-level target, with major policy gaps in key areas.
Other groups, including a House of Lords committee, have warned that the government’s plans are insufficiently detailed, and that it is unclear how the target will be met.
The campaign groups that challenged the government, including Friends of the Earth, the Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley, had highlighted that, taking the policies together, the net zero strategy would only achieve 95% of the required emissions reductions, leaving a 5 % shortfall.
They argued that ministers should have been aware of how each policy contributed to the overall reduction, which they were not, and that the plan should have explained how that shortfall would be met, which it did not — both points that the judge agreed with.
The government had argued that it did not need to provide a quantification of the effects of its individual policies.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “The net zero strategy remains government policy and has not been quashed. The judge made no criticism about the substance of our plans which are well on track and, in fact, the claimants themselves described them as ‘laudable’ during the proceedings.”
UK government sued by ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth over ‘pie-in-the-sky’ net-zero climate strategy
ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth say the UK government’s “net zero climate strategy” (published in October 2021) fails to include policies needed to ensure the necessary emissions cuts. Court papers filed on 12th January by the two organisations also say the failure to meet legal carbon budgets would contravene the Human Rights Act by impacting on young people’s right to life and family life. The strategy pushes the risks and duty to take action onto young people and future generations, who stand to be hit far harder than people today by the climate crisis. Instead of realistic, effective means of cutting the carbon emissions, the strategy relies on speculative technologies such as zero-carbon aviation fuels and extracting CO2 directly from the air and burying it. Both CE and FoE argue that the Climate Change Act requires ministers to set out policies to meet carbon budgets “as soon as reasonably practicable” after they have been set. There are no practical plans to cut aviation demand, or to effectively reduce the emissions from aviation, for decades. After the submission of the government’s defence, the high court will decide whether to grant full hearings of the cases.