Updated Jan 12, 2022

UK government sued over failure to include policies needed to deliver net-zero

The UK government is being sued by two environmental law organisations, Client Earth and Friends of the Earth, separately over the failure to include necessary policies to deliver promised cuts in carbon emissions.

The net-zero strategy was published on 19 October 2021 and included pledges to end sales of new fossil fuel cars by 2030 as well as end the sales of new gas boilers by 2035. The strategy, however, did not specify how those commitments will be delivered, or how much emissions reduction towards net-zero those changes would bring.

Instead, the strategy focuses on future, speculative technologies that are not invented, or widely implemented yet, such as zero-carbon aviation fuels and carbon capture and storage technologies.

Both law firms argue that the Climate Change Act 2008 requires ministers to specify policies "as soon as is reasonably practicable" to meet carbon budgets, once they have been set. At the moment, the assessment included in the net-zero strategy shows that UK emissions are likely to double the allowance specified for 2035 and also is missing targets for 2025 and 2030.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said that the net-zero strategy was a "big step forward" and the most comprehensive among the G20 countries, however, they also said that "The government has not quantified the effect of each policy and proposal on emissions. So … it is not clear how the mix of policies will deliver on its ambitions."

CCC also highlighted the lack of specific policies on energy efficiency in homes, on farming, among others.

The Client Earth's lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones said: "A net zero strategy needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds ...

"Anything less is a breach of the government’s legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay. The government's pie-in-the-sky approach pushes the risk onto young people and future generations who stand to be hit hardest by the climate crisis."