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Chris Packham

Chris Packham commences legal challenge against UK Government for abandoning green policies

Chris Packham has filed a High Court legal challenge to the Government for abandoning statutory green pledges made in its latest carbon budget to keep the UK on target for net zero.

Posted on 01 December 2023

The TV presenter and environmental campaigner has applied for judicial review of the Energy Secretary and Transport Secretary’s decisions to tear up the Government’s timetable to phase out petrol and diesel powered cars and vans, gas boilers, off-grid fossil fuel domestic heating, and minimum energy ratings for rented homes.

The measures and their schedule were laid out in a Carbon Budget Delivery Plan put before Parliament in March 2023. It followed a successful legal challenge by Friends of the Earth that the 2021 sixth carbon budget did not include sufficient detail in order to demonstrate how the UK would reach net zero by 2050 as the Climate Change Act 2008 says it must.

However, on 20 September 2023 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced he was abandoning the accelerated transition to zero emission cars and vans by 2030, the phasing out of new and replacement gas boilers by 2035, a prohibition on installing fossil fuel heating in homes not connected to the gas grid from 2026, and a policy to require all privately rented homes to be EPC band C or better for all new tenancies from 2025 and all tenancies from 2028. He did not confirm the Government will still meet its sixth carbon budget, or how it intends to do so, as is required by sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act.

Mr Packham wrote to the PM, the Energy Secretary and the Transport Secretary to challenge the policy U-turn, saying the PM does not have the legal right to change at will the timeline to help the UK meet net zero because the actioning of policies in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) is governed by statute. If those policies were delivered in full, the country would make all the carbon savings needed to meet previous budgets and 97 per cent of the carbon savings needed to fulfil carbon budget six. Any changes have to be made according to a process in Section Six of the Climate Change Act.

In the absence of a satisfactory response to his pre-action protocol letter, Mr Packham has filed his legal claim at the High Court. He says the response to his letter makes clear the policies on vehicles and boilers were abandoned without any public consultation, without informing the Climate Change Committee and without informing Parliament and without providing any reasons for the delays to the policies.

He says if the Government is right that it can abandon, revise or delay key policies published in a report required by section 14 of the Climate Change Act, then such a report is effectively worthless. It would be a mere snapshot; accurate and meaningful for just one day every five years.

Mr Packham’s grounds for judicial review are:

  • The obligation under Section 13 Climate Change Act 2008 to have proposals and policies to meet carbon budgets is continuing and the proposals and policies must be current. If they are altered, there must always be plans in place to meet the budgets. The secretaries of state breached this obligation.
  • There was a failure to take into account considerations listed under Section 10 of the Climate Change Act, such as the risk to delivery of proposals and policies and to the achievement of the carbon budgets and the 2050 net zero target.
  • There was a failure to consult on the changes, particularly a failure to take into account ongoing consultations about off-grid heating and minimum energy efficiency in rental properties
  • The decisions were based on misinformation, for instance that the UK’s “over-delivery” on previous greenhouse gas reduction targets meant that some measures were no longer needed or that carbon budgets “impose unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families …. that no-one was ever told about” and the understanding that “the last Carbon Budget process was … voted through with barely any consideration given the hard choices needed to fulfil it". All of that messaging is wrong, because under Section 10 of the Climate Change Act, the financing and social impact of the policies were taken into account when setting the sixth carbon budget
  • There was a breach of the duty to inform the public of the reasons for the decisions to change the policies

Chris Packham said:

“We are in a crisis which threatens the whole world, everything living is in danger, including all of us. We have the potential to reduce that threat, we have the solutions and we have plans and targets. We must not divert from these. To do so on a whim for short term political gain is reckless and betrays a disregard for the future security of the planet.

“The emissions reductions available through the Zero Emissions Vehicle and ‘gas boiler’ policies were tangible and quantifiable. They were intrinsically important to the UK’s ability to reach somewhere near its Net Zero commitments. They should not have been changed without proper process and consultation. I believe that action was unlawful.

“I also believe that there is insufficient transparency shrouding the Government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. This plan has been structured to benefit everyone, it’s a small part of a process which offers us some hope of survival. It’s not a political football. It needs to score or else the game of life won’t be going to penalties – it will crash out in the first round.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“If the Government’s lawyers are correct, then the Secretary of State would have carte blanche to rip up climate change policy at the drop of the hat, without any repercussions whatsoever. Chris and his supporters believe that would be an acute abuse of process, made even worse at the time of climate and ecological breakdown. That’s why this legal challenge is so important: if successful, it will mean that the Secretary of State has to keep to their promises to have in place policies that will enable carbon budgets to be met.”

Leigh Day has instructed David Wolfe KC (Matrix), Catherine Dobson (39 Essex) and Toby Fisher (Matrix).

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Rowan Smith
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Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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