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ClientEarth sues UK government over net zero strategy

Out-Law News | 25 Jan 2022 | 4:18 pm | 2 min. read

ClientEarth has announced that it is taking the UK government to court over “huge gaps” in its net zero strategy, arguing that the policy breaches legally-binding climate change legislation.

The environmental law charity said the government’s current policies would not reduce emissions enough to meet the carbon budgets included in the Climate Change Act 2008, which put a legal limit on the total amount of greenhouse gases that the UK can emit over five-year periods - and include a target to be more than 75% of the way to net zero by 2035.

ClientEarth will argue the government breached its legal duty under sections 13 and 14 of the Act to show that its plan will reduce emissions enough to meet carbon targets. It said failing to do so risked the UK having to introduce more drastic climate change mitigation measures in future, with “disproportionate impacts on young people’s rights to life and to family and private life under the European Convention of Human Rights.”

The charity also accused the government of relying heavily on “unproven technologies” while “overlooking viable current solutions that would have immediate impact”. It said that, despite over-reliance on fossil fuels for heating contributing to “soaring energy bills” in the UK, new plans to roll-out low carbon heating and home insulation “are well below the levels advised by the Climate Change Committee”.

The government’s net zero strategy includes pledges to ban the sale of new gas boilers by 2035, and a commitment to spend £450 million in grants for households to upgrade to low-carbon heating systems. A further £60m will fund heat pump technologies with the government aiming for 600,000 installations a year by 2028. More broadly, the net zero strategy pledges that the UK will be powered entirely by clean electricity by 2035.

Despite the targets, the government’s own baseline projections suggest the UK’s emissions in 2037 will be more than double the legally-required levels in the Climate Change Act.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “The UK has cut emissions faster than any other G7 country over the past few decades, and our Net Zero Strategy has been described by the independent Climate Change Committee as ‘an ambitious and comprehensive strategy that marks a significant step forward for UK climate policy’.”

Michael Fenn, environmental litigation expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that ClientEarth has taken this step. It has been active for some time by writing to organisations such as banks and insurers, to encourage them to take into account environmental considerations when deciding whether to invest, lend money, or insure projects; and this new action against the government is very similar to what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions.”

Chris Dryland, litigation expert at Pinsent Masons, added: “While the legal action helps ClientEarth meet its short term objective of raising concerns over the government’s net zero strategy, it remains to be seen whether the suit will be successful – and what approach the court will take.”

The government must now submit its defence before the court decides whether to grant ClientEarth permission for a full hearing.