English High Court Rules UK Governments Carbon Budget Delivery Plan is Unlawful

Recently, on 3 May 2024, the High Court in England found the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan devised by the UK government to be unlawful, holding that there was not enough evidence that the policies within the plan would ensure adequate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has legally binding obligations to address global warming, and this plan aimed to establish the UK’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This was the second plan struck down by the courts for unlawfulness, following a landmark decision in July 2022, which held that there was insufficient details in the plan showing how targets would be met under the UK’s Climate Act.


The challenge was brought by ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project, who put forward five grounds against the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (the “Department”), four of which were upheld by Mr Justice Sheldon. The first three grounds which were successful challenged the substance of the proposals and policies. It was argued by the environmental groups that the plan was overly dependent on future technologies, without fully accounting for risks surrounding reaching these targets. Mr Justice Sheldon, in agreement with the environmental groups, noted that the information given to the Secretary of State in relation to the chances of the policies reaching their planned emission cuts was ‘incomplete’. Additionally, the foundational assumption that the plan’s policies would meet 100% of the goals to reduce emissions was incorrect, and it was held that the Secretary for State had acted ‘irrationally’. While ground four was successful, which concerned the application of the legal test under the Climate Change Act 2008, ground five, contesting a failure by the Secretary of State to include certain information in the plan was dismissed by the judge.


Speaking on the decision, the Department contested that the decision was “largely about process”, noting “The UK can be hugely proud of its record on climate change. Not only are we the first major economy to reach halfway to net zero, we have also set out more detail than any other G20 country on how we will reach our ambitious carbon budgets.”


On the other hand, the lawyer representing the Friends of the Earth, Katie de Kauwe, commented, “We urgently need a credible and lawful new action plan that puts our climate goals back on track and ensures we all benefit from a fair transition to a sustainable future. Meeting our domestic and international carbon reduction targets must be a top priority for whichever party wins the next general election.”


As a result of the finding, Claire Coutinho, Energy Secretary for the Department, must put together a new plan within 12 months, which enables the UK to both achieve its carbon budgets, and its pledge to reduce emissions by more than two thirds before 2030.


Click here for Friends of the Earth and others v Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero



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