Friends of the Earth claims government’s flagship Net Zero Strategy is ‘woefully inadequate’ and that Heat and Buildings Strategy breaches equalities laws

The government will be heading to court to defend its flagship Net Zero and Heat and Buildings Strategies, after Friends of the Earth was today given permission to proceed with its case alleging the two decarbonisation plans do not comply with UK climate and equalities legislation, respectively.

The High Court has granted the environmental campaign group a hearing over its push for a Judicial Review of the Net Zero Strategy, which Friends of the Earth argues breaches the Climate Change Act 2008 for failing to quantify how or by when its policies would reduce emissions in line with binding goals.

Green lawyer group ClientEarth as well as the Good Law Project have also lodged separate legal challenges against the government’s Net Zero Strategy. Their cases were also granted a High Court hearing today, which will be heard jointly alongside Friends of the Earth’s. 

Without clear timelines or targets, the public is unable to hold the government to account for any shortcomings or failures in its strategy for transitioning the UK economy to net zero by 2050, Friends of the Earth claims.

Moreover, the hearing will explore Friends of the Earth’s claim the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy breaches the UK Equalities Act 2010 for allegedly failing to consider the impacts of its policies on protected groups along lines of age, gender, race and disability.

It argues that as the elderly, disabled, and other marginalised groups are more likely to be harder hit by the direct or knock-on impacts of climate change, the government should clearly factor them into its policymaking in order to ensure a fair transition to net zero.

Katie de Kauwe, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, welcomed the High Court’s decision to grant permission to hear the environmental group’s claims on all grounds, as she slammed the government’s Net Zero Strategy as “woefully inadequate”.

“The judge agrees that our case has a realistic chance of success and merits investigation at a full hearing,” she said.

“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,” she added. “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.”

Altogether, it means the government is now facing three separate legal challenges from Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project over its Net Zero Strategy – which was launched last year just ahead of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow – and all of them will be heard together at the High Court, it was confirmed today.

In a statement, the government described its Net Zero Strategy as “world-leading”, which it said set out “specific and detailed measures we will take on our path to eliminate the UK’s contribution to climate change, helping businesses and consumers move to clean and more secure home-grown power”.

“Both our Net Zero and Heat and Buildings Strategy place affordability at their heart, ensuring poorer households are supported as we make the transition to a low carbon economy,” a BEIS statement said.

The long-awaited Net Zero Strategy, which came over two years after the UK first set its 2050 net zero target into statute, sets out the government’s overarching vision for decarbonising the UK economy and society over the next decade and beyond.

It brings together a raft of green policies and targets from the government covering transport, energy, heavy industry and more, and came alongside the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which set out plans to replace the UK’s fossil fuel gas heating systems with low carbon alternatives and enhance the efficiency of the UK’s building stock.

The strategies were broadly welcomed by green business groups, which said they provided further evidence of the government’s commitment to climate action and should help mobilise investment in clean technologies and low carbon infrastructure. But there were also widespread concerns that the strategies were not detailed or ambitious enough in a number of key areas.

In its own assessment of the Net Zero Strategy, the government’s independent advisory body the Climate Change Committee warned that crucial gaps still remained throughout the plan, but nevertheless described the Strategy as “ambitious and comprehensive”. 

And just today, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee criticised the lack of clarity in the government’s Net Zero Strategy, particularly with regards to how it plans to fund the transition, or shift the tax regime in recognition of the far-reaching changes ahead.

In response, the government stressed that the UK had driven down its territorial emissions by 44 per cent since 1990 – faster than any other G7 nation – and that its Net Zero Strategy promised to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and thereby help ‘level up’ the UK. Ministers have also signalled their intention to accelerate clean energy development and energy efficiency measures in response to the Russia-Ukraine War, which has led to soaring global energy costs and calls for a full embargo on Russian fossil fuel exports.

Want to find out more about how the net zero transition will impact your business? You can now sign up to attend the virtual Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactive on Tuesday 29 March and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.

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