UK government sued over ‘pie-in-the-sky’ net-zero strategy

Plans to roll out low carbon heating and home insulation are lagging behind targets, says climate charity

Holly Bancroft
Wednesday 12 January 2022 10:33 GMT
Climate change protesters at Cop26 in Glasgow last year
Climate change protesters at Cop26 in Glasgow last year (Getty Images)

The UK government is being sued by environmental campaigners over claims it has failed to set out credible policies that will tackle the climate crisis.

ClientEarth described the country’s approach to achieving net zero carbon emissions as “pie-in-the-sky”.

The environmental law charity will argue the government breached its legal duty under sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008 to show that its plan will actually reduce emissions enough to meet carbon targets.

The organisation’s senior lawyer, Sam Hunter Jones, said: “It’s not enough for the UK government simply to have a net zero strategy, it needs to include real-world policies that ensure it succeeds.

“Anything less is a breach of its legal duties and amounts to greenwashing and climate delay.”

ClientEarth notifed the government of the legal action this week ahead of filing a claim with the High Court, which will decide whether to hear the case.

Separate legal action filed on Wednesday by Friends of the Earth also accuses ministers of breaching the Equality Act 2010 by failing to consider the impact of its Heat and Buildings Strategy on disabled people and the eldery.

ClientEarth also alleges the government has effectively bet on “speculative and unproven technologies” which risk the UK introducing more drastic measures in the future.

Mr Hunter Jones said: “The government claims that those producing pollution should bear the cost of managing it. But its pie-in-the-sky approach to net zero pushes that risk onto young people and future generations who stand to be hit hardest by the climate crisis.”

Pointing to the cost of living crisis and rising energy bills, Mr Hunter Jones argued that the UK is over-reliant on fossil fuels for heating and has poor levels of insulation.

“New plans to roll-out low carbon heating and home insulation are well below the levels advised by the Climate Change Committee,” he said.

“As the CCC has emphasises, there are huge gaps in policy to insulate homes, support sustainable transport, promote climate-friendly food and farming, move to a low-waste economy, and manage aviation emissions.”

The government’s net zero strategy includes a commitment that by 2035 the UK will be powered entirely by clean electricity, subject to security of supply.

By the same year, no new gas boilers will be sold. The government has also committed £450million to a scheme that offers grants for households to upgrade to low-carbon heating systems.

Some £60million will also be put into funding heat pump technologies and the government has set the target of 600,000 installations a year by 2028.

Despite the positive targets, the strategy does not assess the precise impact of the new plans and policies it contains - for example, by estimating the corresponding carbon reduction.

However the government does include “baseline” projections showing projected UK emissions up to and including the sixth carbon budget (2033-2037). Emissions by this point will be more than double the level required to meet the carbon budget set, with the fourth and fifth budgets also exceeded.

In response to ClientEarth’s legal filing the government will have to present a defence document that sets out more clearly how they will meet the legal requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008.

A spokesperson for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy said: “The UK has cut emissions faster than any other G7 country over the past few decades, and our Net Zero Strategy has been described by the independent Climate Change Committee as ‘an ambitious and comprehensive strategy that marks a significant step forward for UK climate policy’.”

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