UK’s net zero strategy ruled ‘unlawful’ by high court

By on 27/07/2022 | Updated on 27/07/2022

The UK high court has ruled that the government’s net zero strategy does not sufficiently detail how it will meet its emissions targets and that as such it has contravened the Climate Change Act. Ministers must now publish a revised draft of the strategy by the end of March 2023.

The news comes as the US climate change envoy John Kerry urged the next British prime minister not to row back on the government’s commitment to de-carbonise the economy.

“We do not have the luxury of jiggering with the 2050 (targets) right now,” he told BBC Radio 4 earlier this week.

The government’s next leader is soon to be selected by the ruling Conservative Party after current PM Boris Johnson agreed to step down earlier this month following a series of scandals. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, who is joint finalist in the race to become PM alongside ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, has called for a revision of some environmental policies, including the green energy levy. Sunak, meanwhile, has backed a ban on new onshore wind farms, advocating instead for expansion of the UK’s offshore turbines.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the UK’s secretary of state for business, energy, and industrial strategy, launched the government’s net zero strategy in October last year, in the run-up to the COP26 conference in Glasgow. The document outlined the government’s plans to create jobs, unlock green investment and unleash new technologies in a bid to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This included securing “440,000 well-paid jobs in green industries” by 2030 and investing in a range of low carbon technologies.

Read more: How can are governments to reach net zero in an age of permanent crisis?

However, in the legal challenge mounted by the Good Law Project, ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth, Justice David Holgate concluded that the plan lacked clarity around how the UK’s targets would be met, putting it in breach of its obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008.

Taking stock of progress

A recent report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) which tracked the UK’s progress against its strategy showed that more than a third of the emissions reductions needed to hit net zero aren’t covered by existing policies in the UK.

The report painted what it called “a mixed picture” of the UK’s progress. Though plans backed up with “funding, enablers and timelines” exist for 39% of the emissions reductions required to meet net zero, around 5% of the required reductions are “either completely missing or currently clearly inadequate”. The report said that this is “a particular problem for low-carbon farming practices, the UK’s strategy for biomass, energy efficiency in non-fuel-poor homes, and industrial electrification”.

Read more: Civil service cuts ‘could cost UK its global leadership on climate change’

The report concluded that the UK’s adaptation policy has “to date not produced the necessary resilience to fully address the risks that a changing climate poses to the UK across the economy” and that the government had allowed the gap between “future levels of risk and planned adaptation” to widen over the last five years.

In response to a question in the House of Commons last week, Greg Hands, minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, defended the government’s strategy. For a 28-year plan there would “inevitably be some evolution,” he said.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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