Judgement day for the net zero strategy

Zero Hour welcomes the High Court’s landmark ruling against the Government’s current net zero strategy, delivered on 18 July. The plan was judged to be too vague to meet legally binding targets—rendering it unlawful under sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Five climate budgets in, and the sixth was still insufficient. ClientEarth, who helped bring the case, has explained that it would lead to a shortfall of 5%—or 75 million tonnes of CO2e—which is equivalent to almost the total annual emissions from all car travel in the UK.

This timely ruling follows a life-threatening summer—as Zero Hour’s Alessandra Palange has written about so powerfully—and the consequences of Ministers’ failure to produce a plan that would urgently reduce emissions and restore the damage to nature. The urgency of efficiently tackling the climate breakdown has never loomed closer to home for Parliamentarians. And for the first time, their environmental competence has been formally challenged.

The strategy in question was decided in the lead up to COP26, held in Glasgow in October 2021. The courts have ruled that—even as the UK holds the COP presidency—we need a new plan of action, as wildfires and record-breaking temperatures look set to become a ‘new normal’.

So, what next? Judge Holgate recommended that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) produce a report outlining how the Government will reach statutory targets. Come April 2023, this revised plan will be presented to Parliament. To get into the detail of the ruling, this report must enable Parliament to scrutinise BEIS policies and to hold the Secretary of State to account—as well as provide transparency, so that citizens can properly understand how the Government intends to meet current targets.

Zero Hour acknowledges that the weight of the Climate Change Act has been tested—and that this ruling means we’re better positioned to hold our leaders accountable through the courts. We’d like to thank our ally—Friends of the Earth—plus ClientEarth and Good Law Project for their efforts in presenting the case. And winning it!

Looking forward, Zero Hour will continue to champion the Climate and Nature Bill. If enacted, it will require the Government to deliver a joined-up environmental strategy—covering not only emissions reductions to ‘keep 1.5C alive’, but also how to reverse the damage to nature—alongside enabling the public to have their say in the fairest way forward.

Though we’re pleased to see the Government being held to account for its inadequate net zero plans, we’re also focussed on an issue that wasn’t considered in the ruling—whether existing climate targets are strong enough in the first place. That’s the focus of our forthcoming report—Net zero: The ambition gap—which launches on 10 August.

It’s the only report to set out clearly the connection between nature and climate. It explains why we’ll overshoot 1.5°C unless urgent targets and measures are implemented to reduce emissions rapidly, and reverse the damage to the natural world. We’d love to see you on 10 August—RSVP online.

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