This week, the High Court ruled in favour of three claimants who brought a claim seeking judicial review of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy and ordered the Government to lay a fresh report under s14 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA) to Parliament by end of March 2023:
- Shortly before the start of COP26, the UK Government published its strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The Net Zero Strategy (NZS) describes the various means by which the UK will achieve net zero, setting out how various sectors will play their part.
- Three leading campaigning bodies applied to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the NZS. Mr Justice Holgate held that the two of the three grounds of claim could succeed. The Human Rights Act ground failed.
- Unlike many judicial review claims, the underlying decision (in this case the NZS) has not been quashed – the claimants acknowledged that it was commendable. Instead, the Court ordered declaratory relief.
- The CCA obliges Government to ensure that net UK carbon emissions for 2050 are at least 100% lower than the 1990 baseline. The CCA also imposes a duty to set a series of five year carbon budgets (CBs) with a view to meeting net zero emissions. The first six carbon budgets (from 2008 to 2037) have been set.
- CB1 and CB2 have been achieved and the UK is on track to meet CB3 (2018-2022 – 41% reduction). CB6 is the first of the carbon budgets to be based upon a 100% emissions reduction target, rather than the former 80% target which applied up until 2019. CB6 brings forward the 80% target by 15 years, so it’s ambitious.
- CBs must be approved by Parliament and thereafter the Secretary of State is obliged to ensure that the target is met.
- The claimants argued that the Government was only satisfied that its carbon reduction policies would meet 95% of the CB6 target, not 100%. The Court was not concerned with this. However, the Court found that the Secretary of State had not been properly briefed on the effect of individual policies in meeting the CB6 target, and therefore the Secretary of State approved the NZS absent key information (known to officials, but not the Secretary of State). Absent that information, the Secretary of State was unable to properly carry out his legal duties, including assessing whether the statutory GHG emissions reduction targets would be met.
- The claimants argued that the Government did not include certain information in its report to Parliament regarding its policies and proposals to meet carbon budgets as required by s14 CCA. The Court held that the NZS lacked any quantitative assessment of the contributions to be made by individual GHG reduction policies and did not reveal that the quantitative analysis put before the Minister left a shortfall against the reductions required by CB6, or how that shortfall was expected to be met.
- The Court ordered a fresh report under s14 CCA to be laid before Parliament by the end of March next year. This wasn’t a knockout blow by any means, but likely a setback for the Government.
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About the author(s)
Ben Stansfield is one the UK's leading lawyers practising planning and environmental law. Ben is based in Gowling WLG's London office and brings with him a wealth of experience advising clients on the consenting and regulation of their projects and their compliance with environmental regulations and reporting standards.