The UK government has acknowledged that its carbon reduction plan is inadequate and must now come up with a better one.
Last week Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg quietly dropped plans to appeal a July High Court ruling that found the government’s net-zero strategy unlawful.
It cemented the victory of environmental advocates from ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project, who describe the decision as “an embarrassing but welcome descent”.
The trio of NGOs successfully argued that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had not shown how its policies would curb it emissions enough to meet legally binding targets in the next decade.
“This decision is a landmark moment in the fight against climate lag and inaction,” customerearth Attorney Sam Hunter-Jones testified about the verdict.
“It forces the government to come up with climate plans that actually address the crisis. It’s also an opportunity to stray farther and faster from the expensive fossil fuels that contribute to crippling Cost of Living Crisis people are confronted with.”
Here’s what you need to know about the landmark case and where it’s taking us.
How did the UK’s net zero strategy break the law?
The British government published its strategy for achieving it net zero by 2050 in October last year. By the deadline, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the country releases should not exceed the amount it removes from the atmosphere.
‘carbon budgets‘ are important markers along the way – set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases the country can emit over a five-year period and still meet your target. These are legally binding under the 2008 national climate change law, but the government failed to demonstrate that it would meet the sixth carbon budget for 2033-37.
The Supreme Court found that Greg Hands, then BEIS minister when he signed the strategy, did not have the information required by law on how carbon budgets would be met.
Ten million tons carbon could be released illegally as a result in the mid-2030s. The 95 percent of the sixth CO2 budget was also called into question was included in government estimates.
Mr Justice Holgate also ruled the strategy breached the Climate Change Act by not providing enough detail on emissions savings and left houses of Parliament and the public in the dark.
This lack of transparency was a constant theme of the summer court case. “We were surprised at the level of critical information revealed in court when it should have been available to the public from the start,” said ClientEarth attorney Sophie Marjanac.
“The fact that it only came to light because of our lawsuit shows a worrying lack of transparency.”
What next for the UK government’s net zero strategy?
According to the July ruling, the government now has until the end of March 2023 to come up with a revised strategy detailing how its policies will actually achieve the climate goals.
“The plaintiffs did not seek to enforce any particular mix of policies,” ClientEarth explains. “The ruling instead addresses the overarching principles of transparency and coherence with carbon budgets that the government must adhere to when drafting the revised strategy.
“However, the UK Climate Change Committee has identified a number of areas where policy is currently the least robust and credible, including the decarbonization of buildings, aviationIndustry, Agricultureand land use.
“It has also emphasized the need to move farther and faster away from it fossil fuels to address the cost of living crisis.”
A government spokesman told reporters: “The net zero strategy remains policy and has not been overturned.”
The UK has already started one review its strategy, led by former Energy Secretary Chris Skidmore, to be presented by the end of the year. According to a statement from BEIS, the MP will look for the most business-friendly way to reach net zero.
Could other European countries hold their governments accountable for net zero?
The UK became the first major economy to commit to net zero in June 2019 – a month after a climate emergency was declared under pressure from Extinction Rebellion protesters.
Later that year, EU leaders signed on to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 under the European Green Deal. Specific targets have been agreed for individual countries; Germany and Swedenhave an earlier goal of 2045, for example.
Activists are not only taking direct action, but also increasingly in the direction of court to bridge the gap between their country’s words and deeds.
While there may not be direct implications for Europe, this case shows how a court could consider a climate plan elsewhere, ClientEarth suggested.
This victory joins a string of recent cases against governments accused of climate change inaction and inadequate climate plans.
An example is the successful case of Friends of the Irish Environment in the Republic of Ireland Ireland This led to a 2019 Supreme Court decision on which the UK ruling was heavily based.
At the international level, the UK, through its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.
ClientEarth looks forward to analyzing the government’s revised net zero strategy once it is released.