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NGOs sue UK government for lax net-zero climate plans

The UK government is being sued by climate NGOs for failing to include policies needed to deliver COP26 emission cuts. They argue the current strategy relies too much on speculative technologies.

Already in hot water over a number of parties that may or may not have happened, the UK government is now being sued over holes in its net zero climate strategy.

Court papers were filed on Wednesday on the grounds that failure to meet legal climate budgets will breach the Human Rights Act – chiefly, by impacting on young people’s quality of life.

The lawsuit was prepared and brought forward by NGO duo ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth, upon careful review of the UK net zero manifesto published in October. In retrospect, the roadmap definitely short-changed the determined rhetoric of Boris Johnson weeks later at COP26.

Not lacking for ambition, but more for detail, the strategy included commitments to end the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2030 and gas boilers by 2035. On paper, this would make for a huge win.

Upon further examination, however, lawyers say these targets are almost entirely reliant on speculative technology like zero-carbon aviation fuels and carbon capture. NGOs had previously requested specifics on how emission cuts would be made in each sector, but were left disappointed by yet more vague assurances.

‘A net zero strategy needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds,’ said lawyer Sam Hunter Jones at ClientEarth. ‘Anything less is a breach of the government’s legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay.’

Already boasting three legal victories against the UK government over air pollution policies, ClientEarth has dismissed the whole breakdown as ‘pie-in-the-sky’ and ‘pushing risk onto future generations.’

Assessments of its ‘baseline’ projections suggest UK emissions will far exceed what has been accounted for in carbon budgets by 2035. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth are less than satisfied with how the Heat and Buildings plan appears to ignore considerations for disabled people and the elderly.

‘Climate action must be based on reversing these inequalities by designing the transition with the most vulnerable in mind, said FoE lawyer Katie de Kauwe. ‘Not even considering the implications of the heat and building strategy on such groups is quite shocking.’

When you do some digging, it does appear as though there are a quite a few more oversights and that the whole thing reads a bit like marketing spiel.

Biting back, a government spokesperson 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 £90bn of private investment by 2030.’

Activists and NGOs remain concerned that policymakers are talking a good game with no real intentions or knowhow to back it up.

The doubts are understandable too, given we’ve just seen the poorly planned ‘green homes’ scheme fall flat on its face – a promise to better insulate 600,000 UK households – despite being Boris’ touted centrepiece for ‘build back greener.’

The high courts will now decide whether to grant full hearings for the cases. Given its many recent humblings, you can guarantee the government is hoping it doesn’t come to that.


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