Jason Coppel QC and Peter Lockley in successful challenge to Net Zero Strategy

Cases

The High Court has upheld a challenge to the Government’s Net Zero Strategy brought by the Good Law Project (GLP) and Joanna Wheatley (a climate activist), in a major victory for climate change campaigners. Jason Coppel QC and Peter Lockley acted for GLP, who claimed that the Strategy was unlawful because it failed to quantify the emissions reductions that the Government expected to achieve and so failed to demonstrate that statutory emissions targets would be met.

Under the Climate Change Act 2008, after setting a five-yearly carbon budget, the Government must prepare (by section 13) and publish (by section 14) policies and proposals for meeting the budget. The Net Zero Strategy, published in October 2021, shortly before the Glasgow climate summit, is the plan to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget, which covers 2033-2037 and is the first carbon budget to be set in line with the target to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

During the course of the litigation, it emerged that the Government had quantified the effect of as many policies as it was able to, and that the resulting emissions reductions were only 95% of what was needed to meet the budget. The Court ruled that that was not unlawful in itself. However, the Minister was not told anything about the contribution made by individual policies, or about the delivery risk associated with them, and was only told that the remaining 5% of emissions reductions would be made up by other, unspecified policies that remained to be developed. On that information, he was not able to reach a rational conclusion that the Sixth Carbon Budget would be met. He had failed to consider matters that were obviously material to the duty under section 13.

The Court also underlined that the section 14 duty to publish policies and proposals serves important public interests in increasing transparency and facilitating scrutiny of the Government’s plans. It required the Government to set out the quantified effect of the policies – and the Net Zero Strategy unlawfully failed to do that. Among other things, that meant that no one reading the Strategy would have realised that the quantified effect of the policies it contained did not achieve 100% of the reductions needed to meet the sixth Carbon Budget.

GLP and Ms Wheatley had argued that their interpretation of the 2008 Act was required by s. 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, as the interpretation most likely to give effect to Convention rights to be protected from the impacts of climate change.  The Court rejected these Convention rights arguments as going beyond where the European Court of Human Rights had yet taken its jurisprudence insofar as relevant to climate change.  But the interpretation advanced by the Claimants was accepted in any event.

The Net Zero Strategy has not been quashed – GLP agrees with the Government that it contains a lot of valuable work. But the Government has been ordered to publish a new version of the Strategy that complies with the requirements of the Climate Change Act by 31 March 2023.

The claim was heard together with separate but very similar claims by Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth.