Net Zero: High Court to hear challenge over “inadequate and unlawful” strategy
Three environmental and legal organisations are challenging the government in the High Court today [Wednesday 8 June] over its flawed Net Zero Strategy [NZS].
The three groups – Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project – mounted separate legal challenges to the strategy in January. The High Court has decided to hear them at the same time at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in a hearing scheduled to last two days [8-9 June].
In what may become a landmark legal case, the judicial review could lead to the High Court ruling that the government’s climate plans are inadequate and must be strengthened.
The groups will argue that the government has failed in its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce climate policies that will ensure that legally binding UK carbon budgets are met.
They maintain that the Net Zero Strategy does not provide sufficient information on how its policies will contribute to emissions reductions. The NZS does not quantify what effect its policies will have on reducing emissions, or the timescales in which these will happen, therefore it is not possible to know what impact it will have on meeting climate targets. This means that neither Parliament nor the public can hold the government fully to account.
Good Law Project and Jo Wheatley, a climate activist, will also argue that the government's obligations under the Climate Change Act should – to the extent they are not already clear – be interpreted in line with human rights legislation.
Friends of the Earth lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:
“We maintain that the government’s Net Zero Strategy is flawed, inadequate and unlawful. It doesn’t say what emissions reductions its policies will achieve or when they will happen.
“The Secretary of State is legally required to meet our upcoming carbon budgets. Warm words and a theoretical delivery pathway for making the necessary emission reductions are simply not good enough.
“With a worsening climate crisis that’s increasingly being felt across the world, such as the deadly heatwave which hit India and Pakistan last month, urgent and decisive action is needed.
“The lack of information in the Net Zero Strategy is a worrying omission in terms of transparency and accountability to Parliament and the public and, we believe, a clear breach of the Climate Change Act.”
Sam Hunter Jones, senior lawyer at ClientEarth, said:
“The bottom line is that the government simply hasn’t done the job of showing that its plans are credible for delivering its climate targets over the next five, ten and fifteen years.
“The government’s lack of a real-world plan fails people now and into the future as they live with the consequences of inaction. This is all the more critical now as many of the steps needed to cut emissions today are the same ones needed to help people struggling with soaring energy bills.”
Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, said:
"For the strategy to have meaning it must be specific and quantified, otherwise it's just hand-waving. The government talks a good game, but it hasn't actually set out how we will get to Net Zero. When you judge it by its actions what you see is further investment through the tax system in fossil fuels.
"As energy bills soar, government must instead invest in green alternatives. We have the chance to transform our future – but we need to face up to the scale of the crisis."
Climate activist, Jo Wheatley says she “wants the UK to have a Net Zero Strategy that treats the climate and biodiversity situation like the emergency it is, with measurable, realistic actions that set us on the right path. I want my grandchildren to have a liveable future; one they can thrive and be happy in... I'm terrified that we’re wasting the opportunity to wake up from sleepwalking into disaster.”
Heat & Buildings Strategy
Friends of the Earth – which led the successful campaign for the Climate Change Act – has already succeeded on one of the grounds of its legal challenge, with the government conceding that it acted unlawfully by not considering the impact of the Heat and Buildings Strategy on people with protected characteristics, such as older people, disabled people and people of colour [see note 3 below].
1. The hearing is at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and starts at 10.30: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/royal-courts-of-justice-cause-list/royal-courts-of-justice-daily-cause-list
2. briefings on the legal challenges are here: • Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate/briefing-net-zero-strategy-legal-challenge • Good Law Project’s legal challenge: https://goodlawproject.org/news/net-zero-climate-crisis/ • ClientEarth’s legal challenge: https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/news/clientearth-are-suing-the-uk-government-over-its-net-zero-strategy/
3. Friends of the Earth was also challenging the government over its Heat and Buildings Strategy [HBS], which was released on the same day as the NZS and sets out how carbon emissions from homes and workplaces will be cut. The environmental campaign group maintained that the government had acted unlawfully by not properly considering its impact on people with protected characteristics, such as older people, disabled people and people of colour. Friends of the Earth believes that is a serious problem, given that research shows that issues like fuel poverty disproportionately impact certain groups, such as disabled people. Following an FOI request by Friends of the Earth, the government disclosed that it had not undertaken an equality impact assessment (EIA] of the HBS and following the court granting the claims permission to proceed on all grounds in March 2022, it conceded the ground and stated that it was carrying out an EIA of the HBS.
4. Friends of the Earth is represented in these proceedings by David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers, Catherine Dobson of 39 Essex Chambers and Nina Pindham of No 5 Chambers, and by Rowan Smith at the law firm Leigh Day LLP.