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The government has been ordered to redraw its net zero strategy after the High Court ruled it failed to effectively outline how it would limit carbon emissions, as the country swelters in record-breaking heat.
Climate campaigners won a legal challenge claiming the government’s plan was in breach of climate law as it omitted vital details to show how targets to bring down the level of harmful gases being pumped into the atmosphere would be met.
“Government’s strategy for getting to net zero is inadequate and unlawful, the High Court has found, following a successful legal challenge,” the Good Law Project said on Monday.
Lawyers for the claimants argued that the policies for emissions reduction targets only added up to around 95 per cent of the carbon reductions needed to be achieved.
Mr Justice Holgate concluded that without information on the contributions of individual policies to meet the government’s climate goals, the Secretary of State for Business, who approved the plan, could not decide if the key target would be met.
The claimants argued that the government had failed to explain how its emission reduction targets would be met - and the judge agreed.
The court said that detail was important, not only because it would allow parliament to scrutinise the plan and to hold it to account, but because it would provide transparency so that the public can properly understand how the government intends to meet the targets.
The court has now ordered the secretary of state to produce a fresh report, to go before parliament before the end of March 2023. It also refused an application to appeal on the basis that there are no grounds for a real prospect of success.
The claimants failed on a third ground in which they unsuccessfully argued that the government’s obligations under the 2008 Climate Change Act should be interpreted in line with human rights legislation.
The court’s decision comes as Britain swelters in extreme heat, with flights suspended and temperature records broken twice in one day in Wales on Monday.
It also comes as Prince Charles said commitments around net zero “have never been more vitally important as we all swelter under today’s alarming record temperatures across Britain and Europe”.
“As I have tried to indicate for quite some time, the climate crisis really is a genuine emergency and tackling it is utterly essential - for Cornwall, the country and the rest of the world,” he told a garden party at the grounds of Boconnoc House, near Plymouth.
Welcoming the court’s decision, Good Law Project said: “The dangerous heatwave this week is a stark reminder of the very real threat we face. Our infrastructure and homes were designed for a climate that no longer exists. This cannot wait. The Net Zero target must be a road map to a sustainable future – not a lie we tell our children.”
Friends of the Earth called it a “landmark victory for climate justice”, adding the refreshed plan “should include sound policies that stand up to the scrutiny of the Climate Change Committee (CCC)”.
Friends of the Earth lawyer Katie de Kauwe said: “This landmark ruling is a huge victory for climate justice and government transparency. It shows that the Climate Change Act is a piece of legislation which has teeth, and can, if necessary, be enforced through our court system if the government does not comply with its legal duties.”
The Climate Change Committee recently found that credible plans exist for just two-fifths of emission reductions needed to meet a critical stepping stone on the path to net zero.
Sam Hunter Jones, senior lawyer at ClientEarth, said the court’s decision “confirms that the government must show how its plans will deliver the carbon budget targets in full”.
The government’s “approach must also be realistic and based on what it actually expects its plans to achieve”.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “The Net Zero Strategy remains government policy and has not been quashed. The judge made no criticism about the substance of our plans which are well on track and, in fact, the claimants themselves described them as ‘laudable’ during the proceedings.”