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UK High Court rules against government’s climate strategy

Leading solicitors have embraced a High Court ruling that requires the British government to revise its climate strategy to demonstrate how key emissions reduction targets will be met.

user iconJess Feyder 25 July 2022 The Bar
UK High Court rules against government’s climate strategy
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Three legal challenges were brought by ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth, Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley and were heard together at the Royal Courts of Justice in June 2022. 

Justice Holgate found that the Net Zero Strategy, which sets out plans to decarbonise the economy, did not meet the government’s obligation under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets would be met. 

It also found that Parliament and the public were kept in the dark about a shortfall in meeting a key target to cut emissions. 


The ruling stated that Greg Hands, the minister for business, energy, and industrial strategy, who was responsible for signing off the Net Zero Strategy, didn’t have the legally required information on how the carbon budgets would be met — nevertheless, he approved the strategy.

The government will now be required to update its climate strategy to include a quantified account of how its policies will achieve climate targets based on a realistic assessment of what it expects them to deliver. The updated strategy will need to be presented to Parliament for scrutiny by MPs.

The updated plan must include policies that stand the scrutiny of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) — a committee that recently found that only two-fifths of the emissions reduction plan was credible. Justice Holgate outlined the critical role of the committee, by stating that their advice must be given considerable weight. 

During the court proceedings, it emerged that there was a shortfall in emissions cuts in the government’s Net Zero Strategy; the sixth carbon budget (of 2033–37) did not add up to meet the necessary reductions.

The shortfall was totalled at around 75 million tonnes of CO2e — equivalent to almost the total annual emissions for car travel in the UK. These figures were not shared with Parliament or the public. The judgment emphasised the importance of government transparency and the essential role of parliamentary accountability in efforts to tackle the climate crisis. 

The Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce welcomed the ruling.

“The rule of law is pivotal to realising net-zero and tackling the climate crisis in the United Kingdom and across the globe,” she said.

“This ruling shows that the Climate Change Act is a piece of legislation which has teeth, and can, if necessary, be enforced through our court system if the government does not comply with its legal duties,” said Friends of the Earth lawyer Katie de Kauwe. 

“This landmark ruling is a huge victory for climate justice and government transparency,” she said.

“This decision is a breakthrough moment in the fight against climate delay and government inaction. It forces the government to put in place climate plans that will actually address the crisis,” said Sam Hunter Jones, senior lawyer at ClientEarth.

“This is an opportunity to move further and faster away from the expensive fossil fuels that are adding to the crippling cost of living crisis people are facing,” he added. 

“Other countries can look to the UK courts as a key mechanism for keeping climate action on track through the rule of law. We look forward to seeing the UK government publish a credible and robust net-zero strategy that delivers on its legislative targets,” noted Ms Boyce.

“Solicitors and law firms need to prepare for how the consequences of the climate crisis will affect them and contribute to the global drive to transition to net zero.”

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