New legal challenge ends: UK’s climate plan 'inadequate'

Another court battle over the UK government’s climate plans has ended, with the High court ruling that the UK government’s climate strategy is not fit-for-purpose, and therefore breaches the UK Climate Change Act, according to environmental law charity ClientEarth.

This is the second win for climate groups in two years, with the secretary of state expected to now have to draw up a revised plan within 12 months.

This must ensure that the UK achieves its legally binding carbon budgets, and its pledge to cut emissions by over two thirds by 2030.

“In today’s landmark High Court judgment, which followed legal challenges by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project, the government was once again found to have breached the Climate Change Act when it adopted the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan,” said ClientEarth in its press release on May 3, 2024.

Back in July 2022, as the UK sweltered in record temperatures, the High Court ruled against the government’s “inadequate net zero strategy,” as described by ClientEarth, concluding that it breached the Climate Change Act, and needed to be strengthened.

A year on, the government produced a revised climate plan that “still fell far short of the credible plan required by the law,” as ClientEarth claims. In February 2024 ClientEarth went back to court, alongside with its partners Friends of the Earth and Good Law Project, and won for a second time.

Its worth mentioning that the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008 following the successful Big Ask campaign led by Friends of the Earth. Under the act, the government has to adopt a series of Carbon Budgets (a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK over a five-year period).

These legally binding carbon budgets form ‘stepping stones’ to ensure that the long-term 2050 target (which has been set at net zero under the act) is actually met, as ClientEarth says in its press release. The act also established the setting up of the Climate Change Committee to advise the government on climate change, including its carbon targets.

The Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was published in March 2023, and purported to set out government policies that enable Carbon Budgets 4-6 to be met, and the 2030 international target The plan was published after the High Court ruled that the previous plan was unlawful.

The organisations are calling now for a new plan that ensures the UK’s national and international climate targets are met and that the huge economic benefits that building a greener future will bring are fairly shared across society.

“This welcome ruling shows that the law is our best – and often last – line of defence against a government that is failing to act as it must to address the climate emergency,” said Good Law Project’s legal director, Emma Dearnaley. “And we will continue to use it to push for accountability and greater ambition”.

ClientEarth Senior Lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “The courts have now told the UK government not once, but twice, that its climate strategy is not fit for purpose. This time the court made it emphatically clear: the government cannot just cross its fingers and hope for high-risk technologies and uncertain policies to plug the huge gaps in its plans.”

Source: ClientEarth, press release can be found here.