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Government’s Net Zero Strategy Unlawful

Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
3 minutes read

On 18th July 2022, ClientEarth Communications sued the government over its inadequate net zero strategy and the UK Government is not going to appeal the verdict. During the hearing, it was argued that the government had failed to show its policies will reduce emissions sufficiently to meet the legally binding targets for limiting carbon emissions.

The strategy was set in five year stages on the way to net zero, but critically missed adequate policies for the years 2033-2037. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) even stated that there were only credible policies to meet 39% of the emissions cuts needed.

During the hearing, it was revealed that the net zero policies weren’t detailed enough to cover specific strategies and their expected outcomes. Not only this, but the information wasn’t visible for either parliament or the public to see. Significant detail was missing and only 95% of emissions reductions goals were planned, but even this percentage was called into question. A concerning lack of transparency was highlighted by this case. Vital information only showed up in court that should have been available to the public.

As such, the High Court ruled that the UK Government breached its legal duties under the 2008 Climate Change Act. In favour of ClientEarth, the court stated that the period between 2033-2037 was missing a strategy that was necessary to meet the 2008 Climate Change Act. Greg Hands, Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at the time, was ruled to not have had the legally required information when he signed off the strategy.

Because the government has accepted the ruling, it now has eight months to update its climate strategy to reflect the vast amount of missing information. Quantitative accounts detailing how policies will achieve targets will need to be drawn up, based on realistic assessments of what is expected. This will then need to go through parliament and will also need to stand up to scrutiny from the CCC.

We need to start seeing real change before the government’s March deadline. Worryingly, the rollout of low carbon heating systems and insulation both fall short of CCC advised levels. ClientEarth, who scrutinised the plans, was not impressed with how the strategy was relying on unproven technologies as in doing so was overlooking readily available solutions that will have an immediate impact.

The High Court ruling has been praised as a milestone in the fight against the constant delays and inaction we’ve seen from governments in tackling climate change so far. It also comes at a good time as an opportunity to address the rising cost of living and energy crises, while moving away from expensive and polluting fossil fuels.