Ministers to publish revised Net Zero Strategy this month

Press release
Environmental lawyers poised to take legal action again if renewed NZS falls short of mark
  Published:  14 Mar 2023    |      4 minute read

Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project  press release

  • Government ordered to revise NZS following successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project
  • Environmental lawyers poised to take legal action again if government's renewed Net Zero Strategy falls short of the mark

As the court-set deadline for the government to publish its revised Net Zero Strategy fast approaches, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is being urged to ensure that every department plays its part in meeting the UK’s legally-binding climate targets.  

Ministers have been ordered to revise the current Net Zero Strategy by the end of March after the High Court found it to be unlawful following a successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project last year.  

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce new net zero initiatives as part of his Spring Budget on Wednesday – which will be immediately followed by Grant Shapps’ first appearance in front of the Environmental Audit Committee in his role as Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. 

However, earlier this month, the Observer newspaper reported  on leaked government documents it had obtained that “make clear the government as a whole is way behind on spelling out how it will reach its net zero targets and comply with legal duties to save the planet”.  

Lawyers from the three organisations will study the revised NZS very carefully to ensure it does comply with the government's legal requirements under the Climate Change Act.  

The revised strategy has to include a quantified account of how its policies will achieve legally-binding climate targets, based on a realistic assessment of what it actually expects them to deliver. The updated NZS must be presented to Parliament for scrutiny by MPs by the end of this month (March). 

Friends of the Earth head of policy, Mike Childs, said:

“Legally-binding climate budgets are essential stepping-stones to ensure that the UK’s net zero target is actually met.  

“Net zero isn’t just good news for our climate, it will also create new jobs and opportunities, and wean the nation off the fossil fuels that are driving the cost-of-living crisis.  

“Ministers must now rise to the challenge with a Net Zero Strategy that is lawful, boosts the UK’s international credibility and helps secure the huge economic benefits that building a greener, cleaner future will bring. 

"We will be scrutinising the new plan closely to ensure it is credible and will consider legal action again if it falls short of what is legally required." 

ClientEarth lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones, said:

“Last year’s decision by the High Court was a major breakthrough in efforts to keep the UK on track with its climate targets. Without a properly enforced Climate Change Act, ministers would be free to promise pie in the sky, when what we need are concrete plans.

“We can’t afford anymore can-kicking and delay that locks us into expensive and polluting fossil fuels.”

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

“We are proud to have been part of the landmark case that forced the Government to rewrite its flagship yet unlawful climate change strategy. But, with just weeks to go to meet the court-ordered deadline, it is extremely concerning that we’re being told of Ministers’ catastrophic failure to develop a serious plan to tackle climate change.

“Getting this right should be at the very top of Ministers’ in-trays. Nothing is more important than protecting our planet. We need a strategy that covers the whole country and puts real resources and commitment behind it. There can be no more delays, no more excuses.

“That’s why we are standing by and will not hesitate to take legal action again if this vital strategy continues to fall short of the mark.”

 Last July, the High Court ruled that the NZS, which sets out plans to decarbonise the UK economy, didn’t meet the government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets will be met. 

The ruling stated that Greg Hands, the then minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, who was responsible for signing off the Net Zero Strategy, didn’t have the legally required information on how carbon budgets would be met.  

During the court proceedings, it emerged that calculations by civil servants to quantify the impact of emissions cuts from policies in the government’s Net Zero Strategy fell some 5% short of the reductions necessary to meet the sixth carbon budget – the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during the period 2033-37. 

The 5% shortfall identified - around 75 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) and equal to almost the total annual emissions from all car travel in the UK – is likely to have been a significant underestimate as there are serious question marks about the robustness of the assumptions made on the policy effectiveness used for the calculation.  

In June last year, the government’s independent advisor, the Committee on Climate Change warned that credible plans exist for just two fifths of the required emissions reductions to meet the sixth carbon budget. The following month, the court judgment strengthened the critical expert role of the committee by stating that their advice must be given “considerable weight”. 

Earlier this year, a government review of its Net Zero Strategy, said government climate policies need to be more consistent and ambitious, with the report’s author, Chris Skidmore MP, calling net zero "the growth opportunity of the 21st century”. 

The government may also respond to both the Climate Change Committee’s Annual Progress Report and the Skidmore Review when it publishes its revised Net Zero Strategy. 


Notes to editors: 

  1. The full judgment is available on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website.  
  1. Friends of the Earth has also produced a detailed briefing on the case.  
  1. There are a number of things the government must do to ensure the revised NZS meets its legal obligations:   
  •  Include quantified information on the contributions to emissions reductions resulting from the individual polices in the revised NZS. 
  • Identify what the quantified policies are predicted to achieve in total if delivered in full – and whether this adds up to the total emissions reductions needed to meet carbon budget 6, or whether a shortfall is predicted. 
  • If there is a shortfall (as was the case with the original NZS – 5% shortfall, although this was not identified anywhere in the original NZS), identify it and explain how this will be overcome. 
  • If there is a discrepancy between the overall emissions reductions predicted from the quantitative analysis of the policies, and the modelling underpinning the emissions delivery pathway (as occurred in the original NZS), then this difference must be explained.  
  • The court gave “considerable weight” to the views of the Climate Change Committee, so this should be reflected in the revised NZS