Government face legal challenges over inadequate climate strategies

Barry White

Friends of the Earth is taking the government to court over two of its climate strategies which it considers inadequate and filed papers on 12 January see: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate/government-taken-court-over-inadequate-climate-strategies. The Judicial Review, brought to the High Court by the environmental campaign group, will challenge both the government’s Net Zero Strategy (NZS) and its Heat and Buildings Strategy. It will do so on the basis that the NZS does not comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, which Friends of the Earth was central to devising and securing. The group also contends that the Heat and Buildings Strategy should have considered the impacts of its policies on protected groups, as part of ensuring a fair energy transition where climate action aligns with social responsibility.

Similar action has also been taken by Client Earth who also site the failure of government to meet legal carbon budgets which would contravene the Human Rights Act by affecting young people’s right to life and family life, see: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jan/12/net-zero-climate-strategy-uk-government-sued

Friends of the Earth claims the pathways to reach net zero in the NZS are theoretical, because they are not supported by government policy which shows how they can be fulfilled. This means that the Net Zero Strategy is not lawful, and crucially, does not allow parliament and members of the public to hold government accountable for any failures.

They also claims that the government totally failed to consider the impact of its Heat and Buildings Strategy, published at the same time as the NZS, on protected groups. Factors such as age (both the elderly and the very young who will live with the greatest future climate impacts), sex, race, and disability can make people more vulnerable to climate impacts. This unaddressed inequality needs transparency and political accountability.

A refusal so far to disclose its equality impact assessment for the Net Zero Strategy has raised similar concerns.

The environmental group is concerned that people in these groups can be unfairly and disproportionately impacted by a badly planned transition to low carbon living. Yet the government has not identified and considered their specific needs as required by the Equality Act 2010. Previous government research has shown that more than three million people live in fuel poverty across England. Those considered fuel poor are typically people on a low income and living in poorly insulated homes.

Friends of the Earth is being represented by David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers and Catherine Dobson of 39 Essex Chambers, and by the law firm Leigh Day LLP.

The high court will decide whether to grant full hearings of the cases.

Sources: Friend of the Earth and The Guardian 12 January 2022.

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