Government in High Court over ‘inadequate’ climate action plan – again

Press release
Judicial Review over Carbon Budget Delivery Plan
  Published:  20 Feb 2024    |      5 minute read

Three organisations are taking the government to the High Court today (20 February) over its weak and inadequate climate plan. 

 This is the second time the three organisations – Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project – have taken legal action over the government’s plan for meeting its legally-binding climate targets. 

 Following successful legal challenges by the three organisations in 2022, the High Court ruled that the government’s climate action plan had breached the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA) and ordered the government to revise its strategy.

 However, the three organisations will argue in a three-day hearing (20-22 February 2024) that the government’s revised strategy, the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, published in March 2023, is inadequate and in breach of the Climate Change Act. 

 They maintain: 

● The plan contains no information on the government’s assessment of the very real risks that many of the key policies in its plan simply won’t deliver the cuts necessary to meet legally-binding climate targets. Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth argue that the Secretary of State lacked sufficient information as to the level of risk associated with the plan to adopt it lawfully under the CCA.

● The information that the plan does include indicates that many of the technologies being relied on to deliver substantial emissions savings are high risk, whilst many of the proposals are vague and uncertain, raising serious questions about the government’s assumption that the associated emission cuts will be delivered ‘in full’. ClientEarth argues that this approach is so clearly flawed that it is unlawful and fails to comply with central provisions of the CCA.

● The plan contains insufficient information on risk to delivery of the policies, meaning that Parliament and the public have been kept in the dark. Good Law Project has been applying legal pressure on ministers to publish the risk tables attached to these policies over the last eight months. The government has so far refused to do so. But as soon as the risk tables are mentioned in the courtroom, they can and will be published and shared, unless the Government applies for a court order to try and block their publication.

 The Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent adviser on climate, found in June last year that there are now only credible plans for less than a fifth of the emissions cuts needed to meet the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget, which starts in 2033. 

Friends of the Earth will also argue that the plan seriously jeopardises the UK’s ability to meet its international commitment to cut its emissions by two thirds by 2030, and will therefore negatively impact future generations, and undermine sustainable development.

Since the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was published, the government has watered down key climate policies and vowed to ‘max out’ North Sea Gas and oil. 

Friends of the Earth lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:

“We believe the government’s revised climate action plan is a complete pipe dream. 

 “It lacks critical information on the very real risks that its policies will fail to deliver the cuts needed to meet legally binding carbon reduction targets and relies too heavily on unproven technologies.

“The government ought to just come clean that this is a reckless, high-risk plan, and should come up with a credible and lawful strategy that ensures all our climate targets are met - including our international pledge to cut emissions two thirds by 2030. 

 “Climate action is not only good for the planet, it’s essential for creating new jobs and business opportunities, boosting energy security and reducing our reliance on costly fossil fuels.” 

 ClientEarth lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones, said: 

 “The UK government continues to rely on pie-in-the-sky measures to address a crisis that needs real, immediate action – an approach the UK’s flagship law the Climate Change Act was designed to prevent. 

 “Instead of plugging the gaps identified by their own expert advisors, ministers are standing behind a strategy that is riddled with policy holes and reliance on risky techno-fixes.

 "This approach flies in the face of key legal requirements and puts the UK well off track from meeting its legally binding commitments, which is why we’re back in court.” 

 Legal Director of Good Law Project, Emma Dearnaley, said:

 “The government has admitted to us that, on its own assessments, its net zero plan is fraught with risks. Many of its flagship policies could fail to be achieved by the legally-binding deadlines, yet ministers are stubbornly keeping vital information under lock and key to save embarrassment.

 “With so much at stake for our planet and our economy, that needs to change. The sooner we can see what the risks are, the sooner the government will have to face up to the shortcomings in its net zero strategy and take action to fix them. So as soon as the risk tables are mentioned in court, we plan to publish them for all to see.”


Notes to editors: 

1. The cases: 

Friends of the Earth 

A full legal briefing is here

Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge raises grounds under both s.13 and s.14 of the Climate Change Act 2008. 

Under s.13 of the Climate Change Act, Friends of the Earth will argue that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero acted unlawfully, by failing to properly consider delivery risk to its policies, and that there was no legally sufficient basis for the Secretary of State to conclude that the proposals and policies “will enable” the carbon budgets to be met. Further, Friends of the Earth will argue that the Secretary of State unlawfully failed to put forward proposals that “must” contribute to sustainable development. 

 Under s.14 of the Climate Change Act, Friends of the Earth will argue that the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan unlawfully does not include information obviously material to the critical issue of risk to the delivery of the carbon budgets. 

Forcing the government to comply with its legal duties under the Climate Change Act 2008 and following the successful legal challenge in 2022 is essential if we are going to achieve net zero. 

Friends of the Earth is represented in this case by David Wolfe KC of Matrix Chambers, Catherine Dobson of 39 Essex Chambers and Nina Pindham of Cornerstone Barristers and by Rowan Smith at the law firm Leigh Day. 

Good Law Project 

Good Law Project's legal challenge focuses on the Government's refusal to publish their assessment of the delivery risk, known as ‘risk tables’, associated with individual policies and proposals in its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan.  

Good Law Project will argue that this is unlawful because it is a breach of section.14 of the Climate Change Act 2008, which requires the Secretary of State to publish sufficient information to allow meaningful scrutiny of the Government’s net zero policies.  

As soon as these risk tables are mentioned in the High Court, they can be published for the scrutiny of experts, Parliament and the public, unless the Government applies for a court order to try and block their publication.


ClientEarth’s legal challenge argues that the government failed to have regard to considerations that have been found by the High Court to be legally essential under s. 13 of the Climate Change Act, related to the risks of its plans not delivering the emissions savings required to meet the UK’s climate targets.  

ClientEarth also argues that the government’s assumption that the policies in the CBDP will be delivered ‘in full’ was not rational, having regard to the significant delivery risks posed by the plans. Finally, ClientEarth argues that the government’s reliance on ‘unquantifiable’ policies was not rational or sufficiently justified. 

Having an emissions plan that provides confidence in full delivery is a bare minimum requirement for the UK to stay on track to meeting its climate targets. 

ClientEarth is represented in this case by Jessica Simor KC and Emma Foubister of Matrix Chambers. 

2. New Friends of the Earth analysis, published in December 2023, found that government climate action is veering dangerously off course - and the emissions gap has grown enormously under Rishi Sunak’s leadership: 

3. Govt’s climate strategy deemed "unlawful" in historic ruling | Press Release (18 July 2002):