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Published July 27, 2022
The High Court has ruled the government’s Net Zero Strategy vague and inadequate, is unlawful because it breaches the Climate Change Act. The Court has ordered the government to strengthen the strategy with new policies.
The Strategy currently contains no assurances its targets will be met, the High Court found. The government must now update its climate strategy within eight months. The update must include a quantified account of how the strategy’s policies will achieve its targets. The updated strategy must be presented to parliament for scrutiny by MPs and stand up to the scrutiny of the Climate Change Committee (CCC).
Three environmental NGOs – ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and Good Law Project – mounted separate legal challenges to the Strategy earlier this year. The NGOs argued the contents of the Strategy are not sufficient to deliver the legally binding emissions targets that the government is committed to. The Strategy contains no time-bound, sector-specific emissions reduction targets. As such, the groups argued the Strategy is in breach of the 2008 Climate Change Act.
In 2019, the government updated the Climate Change Act when it enshrined the 2050 net zero target in law.
“The first point to note is this demonstrates the value of having enshrined climate targets in law in the first place,” commented Jeremy Nicholson, Alfa Energy’s corporate affairs officer. “It is a significant development. The ruling means more scrutiny will be put on the government to ensure compliance with the Climate Change Act. The government must take into account its obligations under the CCA when making policy. If decisions are taken that could put climate targets at risk, it must put in place measures to account for that. The decision won’t stop Parliament amending the act, or ministers amending the interim targets if they wish to. The government has some discretion to alter the route to 2050. However, it is unlikely that there will be any changes to the CCA in this Parliament but there could be to policy, for example on fracking.”
Some observers have drawn parallels with the UK government’s record on air pollution. In 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled the UK had “systematically and persistently” exceeded legal limits for dangerous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) since 2010, and had failed against its legal duties to tackle air pollution. However, in June 2022, The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that existing policy measures would not be enough to meet most of the government’s air quality targets by 2030.