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Net Zero: The Government must take the climate crisis seriously

The Government had a woefully inadequate Net Zero strategy. We challenged it at the High Court and won. Now they have a deadline of spring this year to come up with a serious plan to tackle the climate crisis.

The Government’s strategy for getting to Net Zero was inadequate and unlawful, the High Court found in July 2022, following a successful legal challenge brought by Good Law Project, Joanna Wheatley, Client Earth and Friends of the Earth.

The Climate Change Act requires Government to hit Net Zero by 2050, to make proposals as to how it will meet that target, and to place a report before Parliament. 

In a detailed judgment and order – published amid the first ever red alert for extreme heat – the High Court held that the proposals for achieving Net Zero approved by the Secretary of State were too vague to enable him to be satisfied that the statutory targets would be met, and that the report placed before Parliament lacked the specificity necessary to meet the Secretary of State’s duty to inform Parliament and the public of his plans.

The illegality of its landmark climate change strategy is a huge political embarrassment to the Government. On launch in October 2021, the Net Zero Strategy was hailed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “our strategy for net zero is to lead the world in ending our contribution to climate change,” and by the then Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng: “this strategy demonstrates how the UK is leading by example, with a clear plan for the future.”

The Court ordered that the existing Strategy be fleshed out with the detail necessary for Parliamentary – and public – scrutiny within 8 months, and the Government was ordered to pay our costs. In October 2022, the Government confirmed that it would not pursue an appeal.

The dangerous heatwave last summer was a stark reminder of the very real threat we face. Our infrastructure and homes were designed for a climate that no longer exists. This cannot wait. The Net Zero target must be a road map to a sustainable future – not a lie we tell our children.

We are thrilled to have worked alongside our friends at Client Earth and Friends of the Earth to deliver this landmark victory. And we are hugely grateful to Baker McKenzie and Jason Coppel QC and Peter Lockley of 11 Kings Bench Walk, who worked pro bono or at hugely discounted rates.

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