The UK government is being sued by two environmental groups which say the net zero strategy fails to include policies needed to make promised cuts in carbon emissions.
Friends of the Earth and Client Earth are filing separate lawsuits today challenging the lawfulness of the strategy.
They will argue that the document, released in October 2021, relied on speculative technology to deliver net zero emissions targets by 2050. It was also theoretical, they will say, because it was not supported by policy to show how emissions cuts would be achieved in each sector of the economy.
Both organisations will say the strategy does not comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, which requires ministers to set out policies to meet carbon budgets “as soon as reasonably practicable” after they have been set.
Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, representing Friends of the Earth, said:
“Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the Secretary of State has a legal obligation to set out how the UK will actually meet carbon reduction targets.
“Friends of the Earth considers that the Net Zero Strategy lacks the vital information to give effect to that duty, and so any conclusion, that targets will be achieved on the basis of the policies put forward, is unlawful. Friends of the Earth is concerned that this places future generations at a particular disadvantage, because current mistakes are harder to rectify the closer we get to 2050. That is why this legal challenge is so important.”
Friends of the Earth is also taking action over the government’s heat and buildings strategy. The organisation said this did not consider the impact on legally protected groups under the Equality Act 2010.
Friends of the Earth previously found that people of colour are twice as likely to be living in fuel poverty as white people, while areas identified by the government as having a high number of residents with disabilities or other health needs are more likely to be rated in the worst category for fuel poverty.
Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:
“We know that those who do least to cause climate breakdown are too often the hardest hit. Climate action must be based on reversing these inequalities, by designing the transition with the most vulnerable in mind. Not even considering the implications of the Heat and Building Strategy on groups such as older and disabled people, and people of colour and ethnic minorities is quite shocking, given these groups are disproportionately impacted by fuel poverty, for example.
“The bottom line is that the government’s vision for net zero doesn’t match the lacklustre policy that is supposed to make it possible. We are very concerned at the potential consequences of such a strategy for people in this country, and across the world, given the climate emergency. This is why we are taking this legal action today.”
Client Earth also claims that failure to meet legal carbon budgets would contravene the Human Rights Act by impact on the rights of young people to life and family life.
Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer at Client Earth, told The Guardian
“A net zero strategy needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds. Anything less is a breach of the government’s legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay. The government’s pie-in-the-sky approach pushes the risk onto young people and future generations who stand to be hit hardest by the climate crisis.”
The government’s adviser, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), said in October that the net zero strategy was a “big step forward”. But its assessment said:
“The government has not quantified the effect of each policy and proposal on emissions. So while the Government has proposed a set of ambitions that align well to the emissions targets, it is not clear how the mix of policies will deliver on those ambition
A government spokesperson said:
“The net zero strategy sets out specific, detailed measures we will take to transition to a low carbon economy, including helping businesses and consumers to move to clean and more secure, home-grown power, supporting hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs and leveraging up to £90bn of private investment by 2030.”