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Case update 24 February 2024

We’ve already won big at the High Court – now we’re arguing for more

We’ve published the Government’s assessments of the risks surrounding its climate strategy. But the Government should never have kept them under wraps.

Our three-day High Court hearing with Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth opened with a big win: we’ve already published the Government’s risk tables.

Ministers had been refusing to release these vital documents, showing how their policies on net zero were at risk of failure, for nine months. But by reaching the courtroom, we were finally able to publish them ourselves.

Now they can be scrutinised by Parliament, experts, journalists and the public.

As soon as Caroline Lucas MP got to see them, she said they show the Government has “set targets without the concrete plans, policies and investment to achieve them”. When Rishi Sunak claimed he was “proud of being a ‘world leader in reaching net zero’,” she continued, “he was either lying or asleep at the wheel”.

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But it shouldn’t have taken nine months of legal pressure for these crucial assessments to be released. So at the High Court we argued that Ministers breached the Climate Change Act 2008 by failing to include the risk tables in its Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. The Government replied that it does not have to publish every piece of information that the Ministers took into account when approving the plan.

You can’t tell if a plan is working unless you can see the risks it faces. So we want the court to rule it was unlawful for the Government to keep these assessments under wraps. This could help set a higher standard for transparency when future administrations set out climate plans.

Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth also argued that the Government’s climate plan was unlawful, as Grant Shapps – the Net Zero Secretary at the time – had given key policies the green light without even looking at the assessments of the risks surrounding them.

A striking intervention then came from the Conservative peer and former chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben. According to Deben, the Government “is relying on everything going to plan with no delays or unforeseen circumstances, and on technologies which have either not been tested or indeed on which testing has not even started.” The current strategy “does not provide the necessary assurance that we can meet our statutory duty to reach net zero by 2050”, he added. “I know of no other government policy which is premised on everything going exactly right.”

In response, the Government claimed that Grant Shapps had enough information about the risks surrounding these policies to support his decision when he approved the plan.

The High Court will now rule on whether we have permission to challenge the Government’s net zero strategy and, if so, on the merits of our case.

  • We’re pushing forward with more work to protect our environment – from forcing the Government to unleash the power of onshore wind to making water companies clean up their act on sewage. Anything you can give to support this and our wider work will help us make positive change.