Three young people have accused Boris Johnson of breaching his legal duty to take “practical and effective measures” to tackle climate change.
At the High Court in London, Adetotal Onamade (24), Jerry Amokwandoh (22) and Marina Tricks (20), argued that the government was breaching their rights to life and family life under the Human Rights Act.
The hearing, supported by the environmental charity Plan B Earth, was an application to allow the case to be argued in full. Judgement was reserved.
Tim Crosland, of Plan B Earth, said the “existential threat” of climate change was already causing loss of life and displacement of people at scale, damaging the mental health of young people and jeopardising the conditions which make the planet habitable.
“if we don’t look at this now, understand the issues now, it will be too late. There is everything to be lost if we don’t give these claimants the right to have their case heard in full.”
Mr Crosland said the three young people have family in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and had been exposed to “disproportionate and discriminatory impacts and risks” of climate change.
[the government’s] “failure to take practical and effective measures to address the climate crisis creates intolerable risks to the lives and family lives of all those within the jurisdiction, but has disproportionate and discriminatory impacts for many, including the younger generation, their children and grandchildren.”
He said the government had failed to take practical and effective measures to:
- align UK greenhouse gas emissions to a limit on temperature rise of 1.5C
- adapt to projected impacts of climate change
- align financial flows to the 1.5C limit
He also accused the government of failing to provide redress to people who had suffered loss and damage for climate change.
Adetola Onamade told the court that seeing the government breaking commitments under international law had a profound impact on her.
“Those breaches are directly impacting my own family and heritage communities, which an inextricable part of my own family life. My own mental health is bound up with the impact and experiences of my global family.
“People without that family may be able to blind themselves to what is happening in a way that is not possible when it’s your family or friends on the frontline or in these sacrificed zones, that have been engineered by the policies of countries such as the UK.”
Fellow claimant, Jerry Amokwandoh, accused the government of discrimination by saying they had no family connections to the climate frontline. “It makes sense to hear this in full”, he said. The third claimant, Marina Tricks, was not in court.
Richard Honey, representing the prime minister, treasury and the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, opposed a full hearing. He said there were “knock-out blows” that disqualified the case.
It was wrong to say there was no legislative framework designed to address climate change, he said. A lot had changed in recent months, with the publication of new strategies and programmes:
“The UK’s Net Zero Strategy is arguably the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach Net Zero, and the Climate Change Act provides a rigorous framework for monitoring progress.
“This is a credible package that reflects the scale and breadth of the challenge. It is a material step forward.”
Mr Honey said the Paris Agreement imposed no obligation on individual states to implement its goals in any particular way. The court had no power to decide whether the UK was acting in breach of the Paris Agreement.
“It is, in my submission, not credible to argue that the UK government policies on climate change are directly effecting the lives of individuals in south London in 2021. Any risks are too remote for them to be victims today.”
“The evidence does not show that UK government climate policy on climate change creates a threat to the claimants right to life and does not show it is directly or seriously effecting the claimant’s health.”
Mr Justice Bourne reserved judgement in the case. He said he would give his ruling on whether the case would go to a full hearing in a “reasonable time” but would not predict how long it would take.