Government climate policies fall short of legally-binding carbon cuts – court told

Climate policies in the UK government’s net zero strategy are not enough to meet cuts in greenhouse gas emissions required by law for the 2030s, it was revealed at the High Court today.

Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice, 8 June 2022. Photo: Friends of the Earth

A case brought by three campaign organisations disclosed for the first time that the policies would not reduce emissions to meet the legally-binding sixth carbon budget, covering 2033-2037.

Friends of the Earth, Good Law Project and Client Earth told the High Court that the government estimated that policies in the strategy accounted for about 95% of carbon reductions required by the budget.

They said the government intended to make up the shortfall with additional policies that were still to be developed.

The organisations said this information had not previously been available to parliament or the public.

Friends of the Earth’s lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said:

“It’s taken legal action to reveal the policies in the government’s Net Zero Strategy do no add up to the emissions reductions to meet the sixth carbon budget – a target it is legally required to meet. This information should have been made available to both parliament and the public.

“We believe this is proof that the government’s climate strategy is both inadequate and unlawful.

“We need a Net Zero Strategy that ensures UK climate targets are met and enables the country to seize the benefits of building a cleaner, safer future”.

The court heard that a ministerial submission from October 2021 said it was not necessary for the strategy’s policies to deliver 100% of emissions reductions required for the sixth carbon budget, provided they were sufficient “to keep the targets in reach” and further policies and proposals were developed, as required, in coming years.

“Flawed and unlawful”

The organisations argued in court today that the net zero strategy was “flawed and unlawful”. They said it included only “vague and unquantified policies” and omitted vital information needed to hold the government to account.

The strategy, published last year, just before the COP26 Glasgow climate summit, said it set policies and proposals for decarbonising the UK economy to meet carbon budgets and net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But the campaign groups said the strategy should, by law, have included detailed numerical information on the impact of individual policies and proposals and timescales for their effect.

Instead, the organisations said, it contained only “indicative delivery pathways” and “illustrative 2050 net zero scenarios”, based on potential emissions reductions in different sectors.

This meant, they said, there was not enough detail to track whether the government was meeting its legally-binding carbon reduction targets.

They asked the court to order the government to comply with the law.

Legal obligations

The organisations’ case centres on whether the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, fulfilled his duties under sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

David Wolfe QC, for Friends of the Earth, said section 13 required the secretary of state to set policies and proposals that he considers will, rather than could, enable carbon reduction targets to be met.

Mr Wolfe argued that Mr Kwarteng had misdirected himself about his section 13 obligations.

He told the court the minister had incorrectly decided that he didn’t have to quantify the impact of the strategy’s policies to decide they would enable the targets to be met.

The minister also incorrectly decided that he did not need to be confident that the policies would enable carbon budgets to be met, Mr Wolfe said.

On section 14, Mr Wolfe said governments were required to report to parliament, setting out policies to meet reductions targets.

But he argued that net zero strategy did not include the legally-required information:

  • An explanation of why the minister thought the polices would enable targets to be met
  • An estimate of what emissions cuts the polices would deliver
  • The timescale over which the policies would deliver these cuts

Jessica Simor QC, for ClientEarth, said:

“There must be quantification and it must be sufficiently robust for the secretary of state to be confident that it would enable carbon budgets to be met.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of science, policy and research, Mike Childs, told the court:

“with only an indicative pathway based on theoretical potential, it is not possible either for parliament, the secretary of state or anyone else to scrutinise whether the proposals and policies will actually enable the carbon budgets to be met”.

Where polices existed, Mr Childs, said, there was “an absence of information” on how or when the policies would or should contribute to the fourth carbon budget (starting next year) or future budgets.

In a third part of the case, Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Joanna Wheatley argued that the secretary of state had contravened, or risked contravening, human rights in the way he interpreted his obligations under section 13 and 14.

The court had heard that Ms Wheatley was “terrified” about what would happen if the government did not plan effectively to achieve net zero by 2050.

The secretary of state’s interpretation of sections 13 and 14 had exacerbated her anxiety and infringed her article 8 rights to a private and family life, the court was told.

Jason Coppel QC, for Ms Wheatley and the Good Law Project, said:

“It is incontrovertible that climate change has a direct impact on human rights in the UK and worldwide.

“The absence of data materially hinders the ability of the Climate Change Committee and civil society to keep track of the government’s record.”

Government case

Lawyers for the secretary of state are expected to argue tomorrow that he complied with his section 13 and 14 duties.

On the human rights part of the case, they are expected to argue that Good Law Project and Joanna Wheatley had not demonstrated that the interpretation of sections 13-14 of the Climate Change Act had led to a human rights breach.

The case continues tomorrow at 10am at the High Court in London.

Reporting on this case was made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers

3 replies »

  1. How on earth, can any such policy be 100% accurate? How much wind is there going to be? Glastonbury doesn’t even know that, and that is a matter of days away. They would love to be 95% accurate!

    Renewables are not reliable. These three organizations seem hell bent on demonstrating that. Doesn’t seem a very sensible approach, to me, indeed counter productive. They might just demonstrate something that would be better left obscured.

    Of course, if 100% accuracy is required, then back to fossil fuels and then input/output can be accurately measured. If one of the two is unreliable then it can’t. It can be estimated/projected but not to 100% accuracy. Having more of something that is unreliable, statistically just makes the accuracy worse!, As I stated, is that what is required to be demonstrated?

    Maybe the preference is to push back Net Zero until 100% accuracy can be achieved? In which case, then I suspect the planet will be doomed whilst an argument has been “won”.

    Can Friends of the Earth determine with 100% accuracy how much will be put into their coffers this week? And, for every week through to 2050? Yet, they will plan their organization around a projection, and I would guarantee that will not be accurate, but might be. Highly probable? Certainly not. I suspect the Government might do somewhat better with probability, but better than 5% accuracy I doubt.

  2. I think you’ll find metereologists can predict/forecast wind and sun. Of course tides are 100% reliable. And as for the reliable predictability of oil & gas…..the whole business of exploration relies on guesstimates!

  3. Any one fill up their car for over £100 a tank, it sucks doesn’t it!
    But it’s only going to get worse and the cost of groceries, because of the gross ignorance in investing in renewables over hydrocarbons short term!

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