Climate Change Litigation: Feeling hot, hot hot!July 2022
On 18th July 2022, the High Court ruled in favour of environmental groups, ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth UK (FoE), the Good Law Project (a non-profit organisation) and the environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley in respect of their challenge to the Government’s Net Zero Strategy (NZS) for its breach of the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA).
Coincidently, in the same week that the Met Office issued the first ever red warning for exceptional heat, Mr Justice Holgate found that the NZS is falling short of its remit to half UK carbon emissions in little over a decade, and to eliminate them entirely by 2050.
FoE argued that the NZS not only failed to create a clear roadmap to a sustainable future but was also in breach of sections 13 and 14 of the CCA, for failing to meet carbon budgets or quantify emission reductions. It was argued that under section 13(1) the government had not been provided with information evidencing a shortfall in emission targets. Greg Hands the government minister responsible for signing off targets had not been provided with the necessary data that he was legally obliged to consider, but nonetheless had approved the strategy.
It was decided that the data provided to the minister ‘did not enable him to appreciate the extent to which individual policies……might be subject to significant uncertainty in terms of content, timing or effect’. Additionally, that ‘the Minister could not rationally decide for himself how much weight to give to those matters and to the quantitative assessment in order to discharge his obligation under s.13(1).’
Under section 14 CCA, it was argued that the government had failed in its transparency obligations to explain and quantify how its policies would meet its statutory emission targets. The court stated that the NZS did not provide adequate quantitative analysis or explain how any shortfall would be addressed, prior to the policies being published.
Despite the perceived NZS commitment to climate change, it is clear that the government has failed to discharge its statutory obligations. As such, the government will now have to go back to the ‘drawing board’ and put in place a strategy that will address climate change, while creating adequate and efficient proposals for a greener UK.
This landmark victory is one of an increasing number of climate change related cases brought by interested parties, intent on holding governments and commerce to account. This particular case shows that the English courts are willing to enforce climate change legislation and illustrates the need for transparency, and for the creation of data-driven deliverables to create ‘effective green policies’. We will report in more detail on this decision next week.
In a week where temperatures reached record levels, environmentalists will welcome this judgement, as it will assist in ensuring the government updates its policies to solidify its previous commitment to creating a sustainable future.Download PDF