The Good Law Project has launched a case to force the UK government to strengthen its Net Zero strategy by June. Does it stand up?
The UK government is being legally challenged on its Net Zero strategy. The problem is that the Strategy lacks definitions and criteria against solid metrics and proofs. For many, the strategy is therefore lacking in any teeth or real-world relevance. It is, to put it bluntly, more of a wish list than a strategic document and its findings appear not to be based in concrete fact.
So runs the thread of the majority of analysis on the contentious events taking place. The challenge for UK corporates here is massive. They are compelled to act on government guidance on Net Zero in order to futureproof their businesses and in order to avoid punitive carbon taxes. That said, no corporate is keen to adhere with guidance that’s unfit for purpose and likely to change. So doing would spell wasted investment in mismanaged policy, additional costs and a waste of resource in terms of people and research too.
Therefore, UK corporates will be keeping a close eye on developments, because they want to know as soon as possible if the Net Zero strategy holds water, and by association when they can get to work on implementation.
The Good Law
The Good Law Project says it has launched a new legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, to force the department to make the UK’s Net Zero climate strategy fit for purpose by 30th June of this year.
Good Law’s claim is that the government’s current strategy fails to meet its legal obligations. The legal action seeks to compel the government to revise and strengthen the Net Zero Strategy and set out quantifiable policies to reduce emissions.
In more detail, the problem is this. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the government to produce carbon budgets every five years that set out how much the UK will reduce its emissions by and give detailed plans and policies for how long the UK will take to reach that target.
These are essential for any UK corporates to forecast their own sustainability approaches and strategies, and to ensure they are likely to meet the targets described therein.
Good Law says the government has so far set a target of Net Zero by 2050 but failed to set out the specific policies needed to lead the UK there. Without which, the inference leads, the targets, numbers, deadlines and estimates in the strategy are all pie in the sky. This is crucial; if true, no corporate will wish to follow them.
The Government is, inexplicably says Good Law, refusing to release the documents that set out its calculations of expected emissions reductions for each Net Zero initiative. Good Law has applied to the Court to force them to disclose these documents.
Again the inference is that without the evidence, the initiatives may be proven ill fit or unfit for purpose. Corporates and UK voters need to know due diligence has been done on the policy lead they are asked to follow.
Good Law argues that to lawfully meet the requirements of the Act, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must publish a strategy detailing these plans and policies, assess their effectiveness, and demonstrate how each initiative will bring about the necessary reductions in emissions.
Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, said:“Making promises that you can leave to future politicians to meet is easy – and pointless. What we need is a real plan, starting now, for how we get to Net Zero. To do anything else is to lie to our children.”
The Government’s Argument
The government doesn’t consider the case merits judicial review. In its responses to Good Law, it explains that there is no requirement for a report to contain a particular assessment of the effects of its proposals and policies.
This appears a slightly strange approach that’s guided by legal definitions over real world positive impacts. Further, the government argues that there is no requirement for a fixed or guaranteed pathway to meet carbon budgets within the legislation that guides them.
And, it points out that so doing would unrealistic on proposals that forecast up to 16 years ahead and cannot be fully reported on today. The government feels it is sufficient that it sets out the proposals and policies it considers will hit carbon budgets and indeed Net Zero, and the timescales it expects to work within.
It also notes that climate change involves scientific and technical judgements and that these are multifactored and predictive, there are after all many pathways the UK could take towards a Net Zero future.