Press release: 12 January 2022

ClientEarth sues UK Government over ‘pie-in-the-sky’ climate strategy

ClientEarth is taking the UK Government to court over its inadequate net zero strategy, arguing that its failure to set out credible policies to tackle climate change is unlawful.

The environmental law charity says the Government has breached its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act to demonstrate its policies will reduce emissions enough to meet the legally binding carbon budgets.

ClientEarth lawyers argue that the Government has failed to introduce sufficient and credible policies to ensure the net zero strategy will succeed, while betting on speculative and unproven technologies that risk the UK having to introduce more drastic measures in future.

Failing to meet carbon budgets exacerbates the severe risks and costs of climate instability on the generations least responsible for causing global heating. It would also disproportionately impact young people’s rights to life and to family and private life under the European Convention of Human Rights.

ClientEarth Senior Lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “It’s not enough for the UK Government simply to have a net zero strategy, it needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds. Anything less is a breach of its legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay.

“The Government claims that those producing pollution should bear the cost of managing it. But its pie-in-the-sky approach to net zero pushes that risk onto young people and future generations who stand to be hit hardest by the climate crisis.

“Energy bills are currently soaring, in part because of the UK’s over-reliance on fossil gas for heating and poor levels of insulation. Government failure to deliver real climate action is resulting in higher bills for people.

On releasing the strategy in October last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government had centred its plans on a principle to “leave the environment in a better state for the next generation” and release them of the financial burden of adapting to a warming planet.

However, not only does the net zero strategy lack sufficient policies and rely on unproven technologies, it overlooks near-term solutions that would have immediate impact, including those recommended by the government’s own advisors, the Climate Change Committee.

New plans to roll-out low carbon heating and home insulation are well below the levels advised by the CCC – despite these measures presenting the highest co-benefits – while targets for peatland restoration also fall short.

“As the Climate Change Committee has emphasised, there are huge gaps in policy to insulate homes, support sustainable transport, promote climate-friendly food and farming, move to a low-waste economy, and manage aviation emissions,” Hunter Jones added.

“The UK is kicking the can down the road by failing to set out real budget-compliant policies, and betting the public’s future health and prosperity on long-shot technologies unlikely to deliver necessary emissions cuts.

“While the Government should of course invest and encourage innovation, the early-stage solutions featured in the strategy can’t make up for the lack of credible near-term action.

“Inadequate climate policies should concern us all. But the UK’s inadequate net zero strategy is a particularly serious risk and injustice for today’s young people and future generations. What’s more, the strategy also fails to deliver near-term benefits for people and communities – particularly those on low incomes currently struggling with soaring energy prices.”


Notes to editors:
  • ClientEarth’s claim focuses on the Government’s duties under sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008. ClientEarth also relies on section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires that so far as possible legislation must be given effect in way that is compatible with rights protected under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
  • In its Net Zero Strategy, the Government includes ‘baseline’ projections showing projected UK emissions up to and including the sixth carbon budget (2033-2037) under Government policies as of August 2019. This shows emissions in the sixth carbon budget at more than double the level required to meet the budget, with the fourth and fifth budgets also exceeded.
  • In its assessment of the strategy, the CCC noted: “…it is not clear how the mix of policies will deliver on those ambitions – albeit in theory they could. This makes it hard to assess the risks attached to the plans and how best to manage these. The Committee will return to these questions in the coming months, and we encourage the Government to increase the transparency of how the policies will support the plans.”
  • Following the filing of the claim, and the submission of the Government’s defence, the Court will decide whether to grant ClientEarth permission to proceed to a full hearing of the case.
  • In addition to the budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK has also committed internationally to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 on 1990 levels in its in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement (submitted in 2020). To meet this, the UK will need to significantly over-perform the emissions reductions required by the fifth carbon budget under the Climate Change Act.
  • Friends of the Earth today filed papers in the High Court challenging the government’s Net Zero strategy on the basis that it has breached the Climate Change Act 2008, an act which Friends of the Earth campaigned for through its Big Ask Campaign. The organisation is also challenging the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy and is arguing that it has not complied with the Equality Act 2010, as it did not assess the impacts of this strategy on protected groups, such as disabled people and the elderly.
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.