Amid record breaking temperatures this month, the High Court ruled the government's net-zero strategy is in breach of the law.

The initial challenge was brought by Friends of the Earth, Good Law Project and environmental campaigner Jo Wheatley.

After review, it was felt the strategy fails to meet the government's commitments under the Climate Change Act as it does not explain how their targets will be met. Under the law the government is obligated to produce detailed climate policies showing exactly how the UK's carbon budgets will be met.

The ruling, from Mr Justice Holgate, states that even though Greg Hands (the Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy who signed the net-zero strategy) approved the strategy, he did so without having the legally-required information on how carbon budgets would be met.

It emerged that the civil servants' attempts to calculate the impact of emissions cuts from policies in the net-zero strategy was 5% short of the total volume of greenhouse gases the UK will be allowed to emit from 2033-37.

This shortfall is significant. It equates to around 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or, in real terms, pretty much the total annual emissions from all car travel in the UK.

Even more embarrassingly, the ruling also found the public were "kept in the dark" about the government's failure to meet one important target on their way to cutting emissions.

Campaigners have responded to this finding by saying the "illegality" of the government's flagship climate change strategy was "a huge political embarrassment".

Following the ruling Friends of the Earth's lawyer Katie de Kauwe said:

"We're proud to have worked on this historic case. Taking strong action to cut carbon emissions is a win-win. Not only is it essential to preventing climate breakdown, but we can also tackle the cost of living crisis with cheap, renewable energy. This landmark ruling is a huge victory for climate justice and government transparency. It shows that the Climate Change Act is a piece of legislation which has teeth and can, if necessary, be enforced through our court system if the government does not comply with its legal duties."

Friends of the Earth were quick to release a statement saying:

"Now, the government must update its climate strategy with a detailed account of how its policies will achieve climate targets, based on a realistic assessment of what they will deliver."

The High Court has now told the government that it must now update its climate strategy and provide a detailed account of how its proposed policies will achieve climate targets.

They will need to present their updated strategy to parliament where it will undoubtedly be scrutinised by MPs.

This is a story our specialist cleantech team will continue to monitor and we will provide updates on the revised net zero strategy as they become available.

Originally published 26 July 2022

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