UK High Court orders nation to revise net zero strategy


A legal challenge brought by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth, Good Law Project and Jo Wheatley, against the UK government’s secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in June, and the judgment in favor of the environmental groups was published this week.

The case claimed that BEIS had failed to comply with requirements laid out in climate change legislation (Climate Change Act 2008), and had only shown quantifiable policies to meet 95% of the legally binding target to reduce carbon emissions by 78% from 1990 levels by 2035. It said that the existence of the 5% shortfall or information about how it would be made was not included in reporting, keeping required information from both parliament and the public.

In his judgment, the judge found that BEIS did not take into account the quantitative effect on emissions of individual policies, and did not include qualitative analysis of which policies were relied upon to make up the 5%, both of which are required under the Climate Change Act 2008.

“The defendant had been unable to take into account and to decide for himself how much weight to give to the quantitative assessment or his department’s approach to making up the 5% shortfall, or to the contributions which individual policies are expected to make to reducing future GHG emissions and the risk of statutory targets not being delivered,” explains a summary of the judgement published by the High Court. “Consequently, he did not discharge his duty under s.13 [of the 2008 Act].”

The judgement also finds that the UK Net Zero Strategy (NZS) does not include sufficient quantitative assessments of the impact of individual policies on reducing emissions, and that this is necessary both to enable parliament to properly scrutinize BEIS policy, and for the public to understand how the government is moving meet the legally binding climate change targets.

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Here, the judgment summary states that “the NZS lacked any quantitative assessment of the contributions expected to be made by individual policies to reductions in GHG emissions,” and that “the report did not reveal that the quantitative analysis put before the Minister left a shortfall against the reductions required by CB6, or how that shortfall was expected to be met.” CB6 refers to the sixth carbon budget, a report published by the Climate Change Committee which advises the government on the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit from 2033-2037.

The High Court has ordered that BEIS lay a new report including full quantitative analysis of individual policies before the end of March 2023. BEIS will also be required to pay the claimants costs, and has refused an application from BEIS to appeal the decision.

Main impact

The judgement strengthens the role of the Climate Change Committee – an independent statutory group, stating that their advice should be given “considerable weight”, and the new report will have to stand up to its scrutiny, as well as that of parliament and the public.

“We’re proud to have worked on this historic case. Taking strong action to cut carbon emissions is a win-win. Not only is it essential to preventing climate breakdown, but we can also tackle the cost of living crisis with cheap, renewable energy, said Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer for Friends of the Earth. ““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.”

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