What's the government's new climate plan and why are we trying to fix it?

In 2022 we won a court case against the UK government over its Net Zero Strategy, its main climate strategy to reduce carbon emissions. What's the government's new climate plan and why are we back in court?
  Published:  19 Jul 2022    |      Last updated:  14 Feb 2024    |      3 minute read

The Net Zero Strategy was the government's plan to reduce the UK’s climate emissions, something it legally has to do to comply with the Climate Change Act 2008. In 2022, alongside ClientEarth and Good Law Project, we won a key court case that made the government rewrite the plan because it wasn’t good enough. 

We’ve seen the new climate plan, and so have the government’s own climate advisors, and neither of us think it'll enable the UK to meet our climate targets. So we’re taking the government to court again in February 2024, because it's crucial that the plan sets out exactly how we're going to cut emissions.

What's the government's new climate plan?

The government's new climate plan sets out policies to reduce climate-changing emissions and decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy, from transport to agriculture. The plan is supposed to outline how it will put us on track for net zero emissions by 2050, and meet the shorter-term targets that ensure action starts now and isn't kicked down the road. This includes the UK's 2030 target to reduce emissions by over two-thirds. 

The term "net zero" refers to net zero carbon emissions.

Getting to net zero means removing as many emissions as we produce, which is vital if we’re to get a grip on climate breakdown. That includes polluting less and holding big fossil fuel companies to account, as well as re-thinking how we use our land and natural resources.

How would a good climate plan affect your life?

We'll all benefit if a climate plan does what it’s supposed to and delivers emissions reductions and a more climate-friendly economy. Better public and active transport (like cycle lanes and buses) and more electric cars will reduce pollution on roads. More trees will help clean our air and protect nature, while expanding our renewable energy sector will ensure more energy security. In other words, a greener and healthier world for all.

Victory in court

On 8-9 June 2022, we took the government to court via a judicial review into its previous climate plan, called the Net Zero Strategy, on the basis that it didn't comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, which we helped create.  

Under the 2008 Act, the Secretary of State has a legal obligation to set out how the UK will meet carbon reduction targets. But the strategy's assertions weren’t supported by the necessary information to show how it would achieve the cuts required. There was no way for parliament or the public to know whether the government was actually going to meet its legally-binding targets. That meant the strategy wasn’t lawful.

We'd also challenged the government over its failure to consider the impact of its October 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy on protected groups (such as older people, disabled people and people of colour), which is a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010. This meant, in our view, that the strategy had been designed without properly factoring in specific needs relating to race, disability, gender and age. We were delighted when the government admitted to acting unlawfully and agreed to carry out an equality impact assessment of its Heat and Buildings Strategy.

And more good news came our way on 18 July 2022 when, amid a sweltering heatwave, a judge ruled in our favour and ordered the government to go back and outline exactly how the policies in its climate plan will achieve carbon emissions targets. The government initially sought an appeal but ultimately decided not to pursue this, meaning it had to revise its strategy and lay out a new plan for meeting emissions targets.

Our lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, summed up the importance of the ruling:

"This landmark ruling is a huge victory for climate justice and government transparency. It shows that the Climate Change Act is a piece of legislation which has teeth, and can, if necessary, be enforced through our court system if the government does not comply with its legal duties."

Why are we back in court?

On 30 March 2023 the government published its updated climate plan, called the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. 

We’ve assessed the new plan, and we still don’t think it includes the detail that it should, particularly on the likelihood and risks of delivering on its policies. In our view, many of these policies have a high chance of failure. Once again, parliament and the public are being kept in the dark. 

And it’s not just us who are critical. The government’s own official climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), reported that only 19% of its emission reduction plans are credible. That’s much less than its assessment in 2022.

So, we’re taking the government back to court. ClientEarth and Good Law Project are also bringing challenges. Our cases have been listed for a hearing on 20-22 February 2024 at the High Court, and we anticipate that a judgment may take 2-4 months after that.

Two campaigners pretend to box, one wearing a paper facemask of Rishi Sunak, the other wearing a Planet Earth costume on their head. Campaigners stand around them holding placards that say things like "Government's climate plan on trial - again" in front of the Royal Courts of Justice.
Campaigners at our court case against the government's new climate plan
Credit: Friends of the Earth

We'll keep holding the government accountable until it produces a climate plan that's sufficiently ambitious and credible. We're supported by people like you who want to protect people and planet. A donation today will help us keep fighting for a plan that will meet our climate targets.

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