August 2, 2022

The High Court rules the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy to be inadequate

Posted in Dispute Resolution

ClientEarth is an environmental charity using the law to address the global climate issues. They currently have 168 active cases tackling pressing environmental challenges in over 50 countries. Such cases include action against Shell Plc for breach of duties under the Climate Change Act 2008 and INEOS’ plans for a plastic manufacturing unit in Belgium.

In January 2022 ClientEarth submitted their challenge of the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy to the High Court. It moved forward in March with the support of Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project.

The arguments put forward were that the Government had failed to show that the polices contained within the Net Zero Strategy would reduce emissions enough to meet its legally binding carbon budgets. Furthermore, the Net Zero Strategy did not include enough information about its policies and effects to allow proper scrutiny by Parliament and the public.

On 18 July 2022, when the UK recorded record-breaking high temperatures, the High Court ruled that the Net Zero Strategy breached the Climate Change Act 2008.

Justice Holgate ruled that the Net Zero Strategy did not meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. This requires detailed climate policies to be produced to detail how the legally binding carbon budgets will be met. He ordered the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to prepare a report explaining how the policies outlined in the Net Zero Strategy would contribute towards emissions reductions, to be presented to parliament by April 2023.

The UK Government will now need to update the Net Zero Strategy to include a quantified account of how climate targets will actually be achieved and allow it to be subject to scrutiny from members of Parliament.

Climate change litigation shows no prospect of slowing down. The recent record-breaking temperatures in the UK and the rest of the world have regained a focus on the climate crisis. Proactive steps must be made by leaders, governments, and commercial entities to show a willingness to address the issue of climate change. A failure to do so will leave the door open for the justice system to be used to force change.