Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth will bring their legal challenge of the Government’s threadbare net zero strategy to the High Court, in a hearing due on 20-22 February 2024.
This multi-pronged challenge takes on the Government’s strategy to reach net zero in carbon emissions, which was published earlier this year in response to a previous legal challenge from the same three groups.
The UK’s 2050 deadline to reach net zero and the carbon reduction targets that apply along the way are legally binding. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Government to deliver a plan detailing how it will meet carbon budgets set at five year intervals – or face the risk of being taken to court.
The High Court has now ordered that the arguments brought by all three groups will be heard at a “rolled-up” hearing in February. Over the three days of this hearing, the question of permission will be heard alongside the substantive case. The court is expected to allow each claimant to argue its case in full, making this hearing effectively the same as a trial.
This is the second time Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth have jointly taken the Government to the High Court over its net zero strategy. Last year, they successfully challenged the Government’s original net zero plan. The High Court found that the Government had breached the Climate Change Act and ordered Ministers to come up with a revised strategy, published in March 2023 as the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that a number of green policies will now be delayed or scrapped, Good Law Project and Friends of the Earth wrote separately to the Government, raising the prospect of further legal action in addition to the existing legal challenge.
Today (4 October), environmental campaigner, Chris Packham CBE, has also announced that he will legally challenge Rishi Sunak’s decision to delay the Government’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles and phasing out of gas boilers.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director of Good Law Project, said:
“Through our legal action, the Government has admitted to us that its latest net zero plan is fraught with risks. Coupled with the Prime Minister’s recent backsliding on key green policies, we have serious doubts that the Government is on track to meet its legal climate targets.
“Rishi Sunak and Claire Coutinho have promised an honest conversation with the public about net zero. But the reality is that we are seeing the exact opposite. Instead of being transparent about the risks facing its climate policies, the Government is actively trying to prevent people from seeing them.
“It’s in everyone’s interests to know if our leaders are allowing us to sleepwalk into a climate catastrophe. We need a Government and a net zero plan that can withstand scrutiny, not hide from it”.
Friends of the Earth senior lawyer, Niall Toru, said:
“Ministers must spell out what impact recent climate climbdowns will have on the UK’s legally binding carbon reduction targets.
“We are already taking legal action against the government’s current climate strategy because it fails to properly consider the risk of policies not delivering crucial emissions cuts. This means the government has once again breached its legal duties.
“We will carefully study any revised plans for meeting UK carbon budgets and stand ready to take further legal action if the sums don’t add up.”
ClientEarth Head of UK, Kyle Lischak, said:
“With the recent rollbacks and approval of the mammoth Rosebank oil field, climate policy under the UK government is moving completely in the wrong direction. The government’s existing plan was already plainly unfit for purpose and these announcements are only making a bad situation worse.
“Climate action is urgently needed now, both to deliver emissions cuts and crucially to help bring down bills for households. The PM said just this month his government remains committed to net zero by 2050, but to date it has failed to take decisive action, and instead appears to be going backwards.
“ClientEarth is deeply concerned by recent announcements from the UK government and our lawyers are reviewing them in line with its legal obligations and targets.”