UK government's Net Zero Strategy deemed 'unlawful'

21st July 2022


The High Court has this week ruled that the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy is unlawful as it is in breach of the Climate Change Act.

In a judgment published on Monday, the court ruled that the strategy does not outline how climate policies will meet legally-binding carbon budgets, as is required under the 2008 Act.

Parliament and the public were “effectively kept in the dark” about the shortfall in meeting key targets to cut emissions, according to the ruling.

It states that energy minister Greg Hands, who was responsible for signing off the strategy, didn’t have the legally-required information on how carbon budgets would be met, but approved the strategy anyway.

Now that it’s been found unlawful, the government must update its climate strategy to include a quantified account of how its policies will achieve climate targets, based on a realistic assessment of what it actually expects them to deliver.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) – which drove the legal challenge with ClientEarth, Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley – said that the landmark ruling was 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,” said FoE lawyer Katie de Kauwe.

“Taking strong action to cut carbon emissions is a win-win. Not only is it essential to preventing climate breakdown, but we can also tackle the cost of living crisis with cheap, renewable energy.”

During the court proceedings, it emerged that behind-the-scenes calculations by civil servants to quantify the impact of emissions cuts from policies in the government’s Net Zero Strategy did not add up to the reductions necessary to meet the sixth carbon budget.

The 5% shortfall totals around 75 million tonnes of CO2e – equivalent to almost the total annual emissions from all car travel in the UK – and it is possible it could be greater, given concerns raised at the hearing about the robustness of the methodology used for the calculation.

These figures were not shared with parliament, or made available for public scrutiny.

The updated strategy should stand up to the scrutiny of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), with the ruling stating that their advice must be given “considerable weight”.

“The illegality of its flagship climate change strategy is a huge political embarrassment to the government,” said Jolyon Maugham, Good Law Project director. “The net-zero target must be a road map to a sustainable future – not a lie we tell our children.

“We are thrilled to have worked alongside our friends at ClientEarth and FoE to deliver this landmark victory.”

Image credit: iStock

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