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UK government taken to court over ‘imaginary’ climate policies

Friends of the Earth says the government’s flagship Net Zero Strategy is unlawful because it fails to set out how climate goals will be implemented.

The UK government is being taken to court over accusations that its climate commitments are “woefully inadequate”. 

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FOE), which is bringing the lawsuit, says the government’s flagship Net Zero Strategy fails to comply with the legal requirements of the 2008 Climate Change Act. 

FOE has also accused the government of failing to produce an equality impact assessment for both the Net Zero Strategy and the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which were both published last October. 

FOE lawyer Katie de Kauwe said the government’s pathway to net zero emissions by 2050 is “imaginary”, with “no credible plan to deliver” the strategy. 

The Net Zero Strategy lays out the steps the government will take to help the UK achieve net zero emissions by 2050; a pathway which is deemed essential in order to prevent runaway climate change.

“Net zero” refers to a scenario in which any emissions being produced are neutralised through carbon capture technology or negative emissions in certain sectors.

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This means that overall, the UK will not be producing any “net” emissions. 

The government’s Net Zero Strategy was published to much fanfare ahead of the COP26 conference last October. 

Though the ambition in the strategy was applauded by some, even the government’s own climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee, (CCC) warned that gaps in implementation and funding remain. 

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Now, FOE is bringing forward a judicial review to challenge both the Net Zero Strategy and accompanying Heat and Buildings Strategy, which outlines how the government plans to mitigate the impact of increased temperatures in buildings as a result of climate change. 

FOE says the Net Zero Strategy fails to comply with the Climate Change Act 2008 because the pathway outlined in the strategy is not supported by government policy showing how it can be fulfilled.

They claim this makes the Net Zero Strategy unlawful under the act, as well as preventing parliament and members of the public from holding the government accountable for failures.

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The group has also accused the government of failing to assess the impact of its Heat and Buildings Strategy on protected groups, with race, sex and disability all making people more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

Under the Equality Act 2010, FOE says the government has a responsibility to consider the needs of these groups in order to avoid a badly-planned transition to low-carbon living.

Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said: “With characteristic sleight of hand the government has set out an imaginary pathway for reducing carbon emissions but no credible plan to deliver it.

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

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Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, added: “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.”

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