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Friends of the Earth High Court hearing over plan to keep UK on track to meet Net Zero

Friends of the Earth, represented by law firm Leigh Day, has a court hearing taking place 20-22 February to challenge the Government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP).

Posted on 20 February 2024

Alongside Client Earth and Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth (FoE) argues that the Secretary of State for Energy and Net Zero’s decision in March 2023 to adopt the revised Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was unlawful.

The Energy Secretary had to produce a revised budget to keep the UK on track to meet its Net Zero targets after the High Court ruled in July 2022 that the Government’s Net Zero Strategy (NZS) was unlawful. The court agreed that the minister delegated by the Secretary of State to approve the Strategy did so without the information they needed to make that decision. The Strategy did not show the carbon emissions cut that each proposal would achieve and when each was expected to take effect, as required by section 14 of the Climate Change Act. 

However, the revised plan has also been challenged by the three groups, who have a rolled-up hearing at the High Court to present their combined arguments for a judicial review of the Energy Secretary’s decision. 

FoE says the revised CBDP also breaches sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act for the following reasons: 

  • The Secretary of State failed to consider the true deliverability of the plan, because they did not consider risk assessments produced by Government departments responsible for preparing the proposals and policies to meet the budget. 
  • They went ahead on the assumption, without evidence to support it, that cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from all of the proposals and policies in the budget would be delivered in full. 
  • They failed to conclude that those proposals and policies would contribute to sustainable development, including because she accepted that the CBDP was not capable of fully meeting the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement. 

Friends of the Earth specifically argues that the Energy Secretary was not even cogniscant of the delivery risks to the policies and proposals she proposed to ensure keeping the UK on track to meet Net Zero, and so erred in law. The absence of information on the risk to delivery of the carbon budgets meant that neither Parliament, the Climate Change Committee nor the public could be aware of how far adrift from meeting the budgets the country might be. 

The legal challenges to the Energy Secretary’s bid to lay out a means to keep the UK on track to meet Net Zero followed the setting of the Sixth Carbon Budget. In accordance with section 14 of the Climate Change Act, it was put before Parliament in October 2021. FoE, Client Earth and GLP all brought claims for judicial review at the same time as the Climate Change Committee reported to Parliament that there were credible policies in place to meet just 39 per cent of emissions reductions needed to meet the budget. 

The High Court ruled that Net Zero Strategy had been unlawfully adopted because the Secretary of State did not take into account information they were obliged to consider to satisfy themselves that the proposals and policies in NZS would meet the carbon budget. 

In March 2023 the Energy Secretary presented a revised Carbon Budget Delivery Plan to Parliament, less than a week after they were given a draft. 

In June 2023 the Climate Change Committee said there were credible policies in place for less than 20 per cent of the reductions needed to meet Carbon Budget Six. 

Friends of the Earth is represented by Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, with solicitor Julia Eriksen

Rowan Smith said:

“It is clear from the Court’s previous ruling that this plan could not be lawful, without the Secretary of State considering properly how far its policies were deliverable.  

“Our client is arguing that, because they hadn’t seen the risk assessments for the plan, the Secretary of State was legally incapable of satisfying their duties under section 13 of the Climate Change Act 2008. We look forward to presenting those arguments to the Court during the hearing.”

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

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

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