Environmental groups sue UK government over 'inadequate' climate change plans

ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth claim Britain is failing in its legal obligation to reduce carbon emissions under its Net Zero Strategy

Climate protesters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last November. Environmental groups are now suing the UK government, saying its green policies are an 'imaginary pathway'. Getty Images

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is facing two lawsuits brought by environmental pressure groups over its “inadequate” plans to combat climate change.

ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth have both launched legal proceedings at the High Court in London for a judicial review of the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy, arguing that it fails to set out sufficient policies to tackle climate change and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The government insists it has set out detailed steps to help transition to a low-carbon economy in the “landmark” strategy it unveiled last year before hosting Cop26 in Glasgow.

However, environmentalists claim the government’s strategy is an “imaginary pathway” lacking in credibility and that its failure to act at the pace needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change is unlawful.

“It’s not enough for the UK government simply to have a net zero strategy, it needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds. Anything less is a breach of its legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay,” said senior ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones.

ClientEarth says current policies will not reduce emissions enough to meet the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets – targets which limit the total amount of greenhouse gases that the UK can emit over five-year periods on the road to net zero.

“Its own baseline forecasts show that the UK’s projected emissions in 2037 will be more than double the levels the government is legally required to adhere to,” said Mr Hunter Jones.

“The government is also relying heavily on unproven technologies while overlooking viable current solutions that would have immediate impact, including solutions recommended by its own advisers, the climate change committee.”

Friends of the Earth say the UK’s 400-page strategy is “riddled with holes and omissions” and that there is currently no mechanism by which to hold the government accountable to its legal targets.

“A rapid and fair transition to a safer future requires a plan that shows how much greenhouse gas reduction the chosen policies will achieve, and by when," said Friends of the Earth lawyer Katie de Kauwe.

"That the plan for achieving net zero is published without this information in it is very worrying, and we believe is unlawful.”

The organisations hope the lawsuits will force the government to address its policy gaps.

In response, the government said it had outlined proposals to slash emissions in October, including a ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2030.

It also cited plans to decarbonise electricity production by 2035 – and to make all new heating systems low-carbon by 2035.

“The UK has cut emissions faster than any other G7 country over the past few decades,” said an official from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“The net-zero strategy sets out specific, detailed measures we will take to transition to a low carbon economy.”

Having now filed the claims in court, the government will have the opportunity to submit its defence before the court decides whether to proceed with a full hearing.

Updated: January 14th 2022, 12:02 PM