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Court of Appeal hearing over Government’s failure to address emissions from meat and dairy

Lawyers representing food systems campaign group Feedback will argue in the Court of Appeal on 16 June that the Government’s failure to adopt measures to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in its Food Strategy published in June 2022 was unlawful.

Posted on 14 June 2023

Livestock is responsible for about 14.5% of global emissions and, if current trends continue, the global livestock industry will be using up almost half the world’s 1.5°C emissions budget by 2030. This means tackling emissions from the food and farming sector is key for the government to meet climate targets.

The Net Zero Strategy expressly stated that the Food Strategy would outline how carbon budgets would be met regarding the food system. However, the Food Strategy does not include policies for meat and dairy reduction, essentially the Food Strategy does not provide a mechanism to fulfil its obligations under Section 13 of the Climate Change Act (CCC).

Both the independent review of the National Food Strategy written by Henry Dimbleby and commissioned by the Government in 2019 and the CCC have identified substantial reductions in meat and dairy as essential to tackle climate change. The Government failed to incorporate this advice, in particular the CCC’s recommendations, or explain why it opted to not adopt their expert recommendations, which the lawyers representing Feedback will further argue that they were bound to do.

In previous legal proceedings the Government’s lawyers have sought to argue that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Government department that drafted the Food Strategy, is not bound by Section 13 of the Climate Change Act. Instead, only the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), formerly the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is bound by the Section 13 obligations, as the government department tasked with achieving carbon budgets.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeal in this case will effectively rule on the scope of Section 13 of the Climate Change Act. The ruling will establish whether it is only the Secretary of State for DESNZ that must formulate policies to meet carbon budgets for his department, or whether other Secretaries of State and their respective departments are bound by the same obligation.

This ruling is therefore expected to have significant implications on the Government’s climate policy. It will establish whether DEFRA must develop policies to meet carbon budgets, considering the CCC’s advice in doing so, in this instance in the Food Strategy. It will also establish whether other government departments, such as the Department for Transport (DfT), must equally put in place their own policies to reduce emissions to meet carbon budgets.

Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback said:

The Committee on Climate Change describes an accelerated reduction away from meat and dairy products as ‘especially important’ in its carbon budget. The Government's suggestion that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)’s Food Strategy did not need to outline concrete policies to achieve this dietary shift beggars belief. If the government is right, and decarbonisation is the sole purview of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), climate legislation and carbon budgets are not worth the paper they’re written on. Rather than driving the UK towards net zero, the government is hurling us all towards climate catastrophe.

Feedback is represented by Leigh Day solicitor, Rowan Smith, who said:

“Section 13 of the Climate Change Act says that measures to meet carbon budgets must be outlined, and the court has already made clear that is a continuing legal duty. It would completely undermine the effectiveness of the Climate Change Act, and set a bad precedent for other policies, if the Government could arbitrarily choose when and by whom that duty can be discharged. Our client has held the Government to account on its promise that the Food Strategy would contribute to meeting the Carbon Budgets. We hope the Court of Appeal rejects the Government’s defence as a technicality, agrees that Feedback’s case is arguable and puts the lawfulness of the Government’s approach under further scrutiny.”

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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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