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Net Zero Strategy: Friend of the Earth's legal challenge granted permission

In January of this year, Friends of the Earth, Client Earth and the not for profit Good Law Project launched separate judicial review challenges against the government and its Net Zero Strategy with Friends of the Earth also including a challenge to the government’s  Heat and Building Strategy.

On 1st March 2022 the court ruled that all 3 cases had ‘permission’ to proceed to the High Court for hearing on the basis that each had realistic prospects of success and merited a full substantive hearing.  They will be heard together with the first hearing taking place on 8th and 9th June and a full hearing expected to take place later on in the year.

All three judicial review challenges will be considered on the basis that the government’s Net Zero Strategy does not comply with the Climate Change Act 2008 and that the Secretary of State has breached Sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act.  The Climate Change Act places a legal obligation on the government to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 with Sections 13 and 14 of the Act requiring the Secretary of State to produce policies which will enable forthcoming carbon budgets set under the Act to be met.   

It is argued that with the Strategy’s proposals to reach net zero are not being supported by polices or proposals (which are essential in order to achieve net zero by 2050) and that this places the government in breach of the Climate Change Act and renders the Net Zero Strategy unlawful. 

Friends of the Earth have stated that as the Strategy is currently unlawful this means that the public and parliament are unable to hold the government to account for any failures in the UK’s transition to a low carbon future. 

Friends of the Earth are also arguing that the Secretary of State is in breach of the Heating and Buildings Strategy and that he has failed to comply with the public sector equality duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act.  The Secretary of State, they argue, has failed to undertake an assessment of what impact the Strategy will have on people with protected characteristics such as the disabled, the elderly and people of colour.

Client Earth has referred to the Net Zero Strategy as a “Pie in the sky approach to net zero”.

The Good Law Project has stated that it has launched the legal challenge to “force the government to revise and strengthen” the Net Zero Strategy.

Both Client Earth and the Good Law Project base their cases on whether the Secretary of State failed to discharge his duties under Section 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act and also whether these duties had been interpreted compatibly with human rights obligations.

There has been wide criticism of the Net Zero Strategy by green groups, trade bodies and even MPs for its lacking of sector specific goals for reducing carbon emissions.  Therefore these legal challenges to the Strategy will no doubt be closely followed by many in the manufacturing sector.

Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said:

“We are delighted that the High Court has granted us permission to take the government to court on all of our grounds. The judge agrees that our case has a realistic chance of success and merits investigation at a full hearing.

“Principally, we hope to prove just how woefully inadequate the government’s Net Zero Strategy is, the same policy framework that is supposed to be the UK’s roadmap to a safer, greener future. We believe the government has breached the Climate Change Act 2008, a vital piece of legislation that Friends of the Earth was pivotal in bringing into law. We will now get to work on preparing our case, and look forward to our day in court.””