Environmental campaigners take government to High Court over 'imaginary' plans to cut carbon

Campaigners say plans are not concrete enough to ensure tangible results

A High Court challenge against the government’s climate strategies has been launched by environmental campaigners, accusing ministers of creating a purely “imaginary” pathway to cut carbon.

The Friends of the Earth group argued the government’s Net Zero Strategy - released in October - contained only “theoretical” plans to reduce emissions, with no detailed policy backing them up.

This, the group said, puts the government in breach of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Lawyers for the group have also challenged the Heat and Buildings Strategy, claiming the government has failed to consider the impact of carbon-cutting schemes on different age groups, ethnic communities, and people with disabilities.

Katie de Kauwe, who's a lawyer at Friends of the Earth, said: "The bottom line is that the government’s vision for net zero doesn’t match the lacklustre policy that is supposed to make it possible."

They say that people in these groups can be "unfairly and disproportionately" affected by "a badly planned transition to low carbon living".

Research from the group previously found 41% of neighbourhoods in the West Midlands were in the worst category for fuel poverty, while people of colour and people with disabilities were more likely to suffer fuel poverty.

“The bottom line is that the government’s vision for net zero doesn’t match the lacklustre policy that is supposed to make it possible,” Friends of the Earth lawyer Katie de Kauwe said.

Campaigners argue those that use the lowest amount of energy will suffer the most Credit: Press Association

“A rapid and fair transition to a safer future requires a plan that shows how much greenhouse gas reduction the chosen policies will achieve, and by when. That the plan for achieving net zero is published without this information in it is very worrying, and we believe is unlawful.”

She said housing was a strong example, because the people who tend to consume the lowest amount of energy are those in small, ageing, poorly insulate homes.

“And now people across the country are facing an energy price crisis, with gas prices expected to double compared to just two years ago,” she added.“We are very concerned at the potential consequences of such a strategy for people in this country, and across the world, given the climate emergency. This is why we are taking this legal action today.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day which is representing the group in court, said: "Current mistakes are harder to rectify the closer we get to 2050. That is why this legal challenge is so important.

"Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the Secretary of State has a legal obligation to set out how the UK will actually meet carbon reduction targets. 

"Friends of the Earth considers that the Net Zero Strategy lacks the vital information to give effect to that duty, and so any conclusion, that targets will be achieved on the basis of the policies put forward, is unlawful. 

"Friends of the Earth is concerned that this places future generations at a particular disadvantage, because current mistakes are harder to rectify the closer we get to 2050. That is why this legal challenge is so important."

The legal challenge has been filed at the High Court

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the UK had driven down emissions by 44%, the fastest reduction of any G7 country, and had already spent £1.3 billion in the past 12 months to upgrade up to 50,000 homes to become more energy efficient.

The UK has cut emissions faster than any other G7 country over the past few decades, and our Net Zero Strategy has been described by the independent Climate Change Committee as ‘an ambitious and comprehensive strategy that marks a significant step forward for UK climate policy’,” they said.

“The Net Zero Strategy sets out specific, detailed measures we will take to transition to a low carbon economy, including helping businesses and consumers to move to clean and more secure, home-grown power, supporting hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs and leveraging up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030.”

They did not comment, when asked, on why an equality impact assessment had not been released regarding the Heat and Buildings Strategy.