Carbon emissions

Legal challenge launched against UK's "unlawful" Net Zero Strategy

A not-for-profit organisation is taking legal action against the UK government's strategy for achieving net-zero carbon emissions, claiming it fails to meet its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act.

Not-for-profit Good Law Project launched a legal challenge to "force the government to revise and strengthen" the Net Zero Strategy by 30 June.

The group alleges that the strategy is unlawful because it fails to set out the policies or proposals needed to achieve its target, to bring the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere down to net-zero by 2050.

According to the Climate Change Act of 2008, the government is legally committed to achieving this target.

"Right now, there is no way the government's Net Zero Strategy meets its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act," said Jo Maugham, founder of Good Law Project.

"The government may have set out a vision, but it hasn't set out the specific policies needed to lead us to net-zero, and it isn't measuring the emissions reductions its initiatives are meant to achieve," said Maugham.

"So while the government has set the grand target of net-zero by 2050, it fails to set out how we will actually get there. We believe this is unlawful."

ClientEarth also launched legal challenge

The government is facing a separate legal challenge from environmental organisation ClientEarth, which has also accused the business department of breaching its legal duty under sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act.

ClientEarth senior lawyer Sam Hunter Jones described the strategy as "a pie-in-the-sky approach to net zero".

"It's not enough for the UK government simply to have a net-zero strategy, it needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds," said Hunter Jones.

"Anything less is a breach of its legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay."

The move comes as members of the UK's ruling Conservative Party are agitating to bin the Net Zero Strategy, falsely claiming it is the cause of high energy prices.

Net Zero Strategy widely criticised

The Net Zero Strategy was published on 18 October, ahead of the COP26 climate summit, and has been widely criticised.

Cambridge University engineering professor Julian Allwood told Dezeen the strategy is too focused on fledgling, future technologies, while the RIBA and other architecture industry groups believe more policies are needed to regulate embodied carbon.

A key criticism is that, unlike previous government roadmaps on decarbonisation like the Clean Growth Strategy of 2017 or The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution of 2020, the Net Zero Strategy doesn't include a breakdown of how each individual policy will reduce emissions.

Good Law Project has applied to the court to force them to disclose documents revealing how the emission reduction figures were calculated.

The organisation got involved after the government refused a freedom of information request from New Scientist magazine.

Its lawyers, Baker McKenzie, sent a pre-action protocol letter to the government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy on 22 December 2021, calling for the information to be revealed.

The request was denied in a government response letter dated 12 January 2022.

"What we need is a real plan"

Good Law Project has also set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover the legal fees and limited costs risk. At the time of publishing, it had raised £27,800 of its £30,000 target with 14 days left to go.

"Making promises that you can leave to future politicians to meet is easy, and pointless," said Maugham.

"What we need is a real plan, starting now, for how we get to net-zero. To do anything else is to lie to our children."

Net-zero means eliminating carbon emissions or neutralising emissions by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Various companies have pledged to reach net-zero sooner than 2050. Technology companies Microsoft and Apple have promised to get there by 2030, while furniture company Takt claims it will be net-zero within the next three years.

Dezeen has pledged to be a net-zero company by 2025.

The photograph is by Matthias Heyde.