How the Climate Change Act helped us hold the government to account

In 2008 our campaign for the creation of the UK's Climate Change Act succeeded. Over a decade on, we explore how this Act has enabled us to carry out ground-breaking legal work that’s shaping the future of our planet.
  Published:  17 Oct 2022    |      2 minute read

What's the Climate Change Act?

The UK’s Climate Change Act became the world’s first national law to require cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and hold the government accountable for these cuts. Under the Act, a scientifically informed, long-term, legally binding target was adopted, to achieve an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. In 2019 this long-term target was revised to the still more ambitious Net Zero target.

Since the pioneering UK Act was passed, there've been many new climate laws enacted around the world. The UK can’t claim credit for all of these, but it's been influential: those in Northern Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Finland were all closely modelled on the UK Act.

How does the Climate Change Act help us hold government to account?

The Climate Change Act and its implications have never been more important. Despite the chaos in Westminster, we can still make government accountable for its actions. The Act is powerful as it creates a framework in which action can and must be taken by the government.

Most significantly, the Act can be enforced through our court system if government doesn’t comply with its legal duties. This is something we’ve proved through our pioneering Net Zero Strategy legal case. The Climate Change Act may have been established in 2008, but we’re still seeing its benefits today. It’s enabled us to hold government accountable, years later, and has allowed us to carry out vital and successful legal challenges against government’s inaction.

Net Zero Strategy court case win

Alongside ClientEarth and the Good Law Project, we recently took the government to court and won. In a landmark victory, the High Court ruled in July that the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy is unlawful. This strategy is supposed to explain how emissions targets will be achieved, but we argued successfully that it was legally inadequate and didn't contain sufficient detail. The government sought an appeal, but we’re delighted to confirm that it recently decided not to pursue this after all. That means our win in the High Court stands. Now the government has to revise its strategy and lay out a credible plan for meeting emissions targets.

People demonstrating with giant postcards outside the Royal Courts of Justice
Demonstrators at the Net Zero Strategy court case
Credit: Megan Barclay, Friends of the Earth

The Climate Change Act directly enabled this victory. It was this very Act that allowed us to hold the government to account over its Net Zero Strategy. This is the kind of good news we desperately needed while seeing the impact of the climate crisis, through record-breaking heatwaves and fires sweeping across the country and around the world.

A lasting legacy

The journey for climate action can sometimes feel long, but we need to take a step back and celebrate our victories. The Climate Change Act has enabled us to hold government accountable for its climate inaction and win campaigns that have a lasting legacy. The Act has also enabled policy changes across the board, like the government banning the sale of fossil fuel cars beyond 2030. Thanks to a law we campaigned for and succeeded in establishing back in 2008, we’re winning more battles today.

Change doesn't happen overnight. It's the result of collective action over many years of sustained campaigning. Our latest Net Zero Strategy win against the UK government can point the way to a more climate-friendly economy and a greener and healthier world for all. This win is proof that our actions can have a big impact, even if you have to wait a while to see it happen.

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