'Landmark ruling' sees government's net-zero strategy ruled 'unlawful'

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A landmark court judgment has ruled the UK government's net-zero strategy is in breach of the law - as it doesn't explain how targets will be met.

It also finds that parliament and the public were effectively kept in the dark about a shortfall in meeting a key target to cut emissions.

The High Court judgment - published amid the Met Office's first-ever red alert for extreme heat - said the strategy, which sets out plans to decarbonise the economy, does not meet the government's obligations under the Climate Change Act.

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The ruling, from Mr Justice Holgate, states Greg Hands, the minister for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), who was responsible for signing off the net-zero strategy, did not have the legally-required information on how carbon budgets would be met.

He nevertheless approved the strategy.

The legal challenges were brought by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth, Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley, and were heard together at the Royal Courts of Justice.

According to Friends of The Earth, the government will now have to update its climate strategy to include a quantified account of how its policies will achieve targets, based on a realistic assessment of what it expects them to deliver.

That updated strategy will have to be presented to parliament for scrutiny by MPs.

In court, it emerged that behind-the-scenes calculations by civil servants to quantify the impact of emissions cuts from policies in the net-zero strategy did not add up to the reductions necessary to meet the sixth carbon budget - the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit from 2033-37.

This 5% shortfall over the sixth carbon budget is significant in climate terms and totals around 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to almost the total annual emissions from all car travel in the UK (recorded in 2019 before pandemic-induced empty roads).

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'Huge victory for climate justice'

Friends of The Earth says it is also possible that a realistic estimate of the shortfall would be much greater than 5%, "given concerns raised at the hearing about the robustness of the methodology used for the calculation".

These figures were not shared with parliament, or made available for public scrutiny, they said.

The group's lawyer Katie de Kauwe said they were proud to have worked on a "historic case".

She added: "Taking strong action to cut carbon emissions is a win-win. Not only is it essential to prevent climate breakdown, but we can also tackle the cost of living crisis with cheap, renewable energy.

"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."

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."

All four of the remaining Conservative leadership contenders have committed to meeting net-zero by 2050.

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