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UK Climate Plans Lose High Court Case

A desk with green papers, trees, a globe, the scales of justice and a gavel
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: May 15, 2024
3 minutes read

Once again, the government has been defeated in the courts for not being able to qualify emissions cutting targets. For a second time, the climate plan for net zero will have to be redrafted again on the grounds that it was signed off by the energy minister without sufficient evidence that it could be achieved.

The Legal Challenge

Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and The Good Law Project worked together to challenge the government’s net zero plan. Similar to the previous case in 2022, where the net zero plan was challenged based on not having enough detail, it’s come through the courts again.

The Climate Change Act requires a detailed and comprehensive understanding of how climate change targets will be met in order for the 2050 target of net zero to be reached. According to campaigners, former Energy Secretary Grant Shapps signed off the proposal assuming that the policies would be achieved.

In the case, the presiding judge ruled that there was no clear evidence to suggest which of the proposed policies would not be met, either partially or completely.

“What we now need to see is a climate plan which is robust, which is comprehensive and which is fair, which makes sure we meet all our climate targets, and which does that in a way which doesn’t leave anybody behind.”

Tony Bosworth – Lead Campaigner at Friends of the Earth

Government Response

Despite not reading the ruling in any detail, Rishi Sunak simply said that the UK should be “proud of our track record” on climate change.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said, “The UK can be hugely proud of its record on climate change. We do not believe a court case about process presents the best way of driving progress towards our shared goal of reaching net zero.”

Putting these comments aside , the UK Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) has warned the government on multiple occasions that its net zero plan has not been sufficient enough. With last March’s republished plan, the UKCCC expressed even less confidence that climate goals could be achieved.

The Targets

By 2035, the UK is aiming to reduce emissions by 78% against 1990 levels. Based on current predictions, the UKCCC estimates that only a fifth of these emissions cuts would be achieved.

“Despite over 3,000 pages of new detail, [our] confidence in the UK meeting its goal from 2030 onwards is now markedly less than it was in our previous assessment a year ago.”

The UKCCC commenting on the UK Government’s republished net zero plan

From the UKCCC’s point of view, there’s been heavy criticism about the failure to adopt clean energy and in how more new fossil fuel projects have been announced. Last July, the Prime Minister announced 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences – a decision that has been condemned by climate activists and government climate change bodies alike.

At COP26, a commitment was made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 68% by 2030. This means that the recent rates outside the electricity supply sector must quadruple in less than seven years. However, the UKCCC has observed progress towards this being worryingly slow.

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