Ministers who fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions should face legal action, says former chief government scientist

Professor Sir David King says 'if it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it – I’ll support it'

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Wednesday 27 September 2017 11:05 BST

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Ministers should face legal action unless they agree to cut greenhouse gases in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, a former chief government scientist has said.

The UK currently has a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, even though they must be brought down to net zero by that date to meet the country’s international obligations.

Last year, the then Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said the UK would achieve a 100 per cent cut, but ministers have failed to make this tougher target a binding one under the UK Climate Change Act.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Sir David King said this was “crazy”, adding that he backed campaign group Plan B’s threat to take the Government to court over the issue.

“The Government knows very well what needs to be done – but it isn't doing it,” he said.

“If it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it – I’ll support it.”

Plan B, which is run by Tim Crosland, a former government lawyer, claims Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, has a legal requirement to adopt a tougher target if this is shown to be necessary by science. Mr Clark is responsible for climate change issues after Theresa May abolished the dedicated department and moved its responsibility to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Mr Crosland has given Mr Clark 14 days to respond to a letter spelling out the case for a 100 per cent cut in emissions by 2050.

If the Secretary of State fails to give a satisfactory reply, he and other parties to the case will seek a judicial review in the High Court.

“The science has clearly hardened since the Climate Change Act was agreed,” he said.

“If scientists are telling us our current course of emissions potentially takes us to catastrophe, then to stick to the current course is irrational.

“The best available science tells us the risks of crossing tipping points rise very sharply between 1.5 and 2C. And that means the UK cutting emissions to zero.”

Claire Perry, the Climate Change Minister, is due to reveal the Government’s long-delayed “Clean Growth Strategy”, also known as the Emissions Reduction Plan, in the next few weeks.

This will lay out the UK’s main plan for fighting climate change.

BEIS acknowledged it had a legal duty to cut greenhouse gases.

“The UK is a global leader in tackling climate change – we were the first country to introduce domestic legally binding emission reduction targets and played a vital role in securing the historic Paris Agreement,” a department spokesperson said.

“Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing our economy by two thirds. This means we lead the G7 nations on clean growth.

“The forthcoming Clean Growth Strategy will be an ambitious and robust plan, which will outline how we will reduce emissions further in line with the Climate Change Act and build on the economic opportunities across the country.”

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