An 'inadequate' climate action plan

The UK Government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan is inadequate and in breach of the Climate Change Act, court hears.

The government’s revised climate action plan is a complete pipe dream.

Three organisations have taken the UK government to the High Court this week to challenge its "weak and inadequate" climate plan. 

This is the second time Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project have taken legal action over the government’s plan for meeting its legally-binding climate targets. 

The High Court has already ruled that the government’s climate action plan had breached the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA) and ordered the government to revise its strategy, following the successful legal challenges by the three organisations in 2022.


However, the three organisations will argue in a three-day hearing taking place from Tuesday 20 February 2024 that the government’s revised strategy, the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan published in March 2023, is inadequate and in breach of the Climate Change Act. 

They maintain that the plan contains no information on the government’s assessment of the very real risks that many of the key policies in its plan simply won’t deliver the cuts necessary to meet legally-binding climate targets. Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth argue that the Secretary of State lacked sufficient information as to the level of risk associated with the plan to adopt it lawfully under the CCA.

The organisations also claim that the information that the plan does include indicates that many of the technologies being relied on to deliver substantial emissions savings are high risk, whilst many of the proposals are vague and uncertain, raising serious questions about the government’s assumption that the associated emission cuts will be delivered ‘in full’. ClientEarth argues that this approach is so clearly flawed that it is unlawful and fails to comply with central provisions of the CCA.

Finally, they will also argue that the plan contains insufficient information on risk to delivery of the policies, meaning that parliament and the public have been kept in the dark. 

Good Law Project has been applying legal pressure on ministers to publish the risk tables attached to these policies over the last eight months. The government has so far refused to do so. But as soon as the risk tables are mentioned in the courtroom, they can and will be published and shared, unless the Government applies for a court order to try and block their publication.

The Climate Change Committee, the government’s independent adviser on climate, found in June last year that there are now only credible plans for less than a fifth of the emissions cuts needed to meet the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget, which starts in 2033. 

Pipe dream

Friends of the Earth argues that the plan seriously jeopardises the UK’s ability to meet its international commitment to cut its emissions by two thirds by 2030, and will therefore negatively impact future generations, and undermine sustainable development.

Since the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was published, the government has watered down key climate policies and vowed to ‘max out’ North Sea Gas and oil. 

The government’s revised climate action plan is a complete pipe dream.

Katie de Kauwe, the lawyer for Friends of the Earth, said: “We believe the government’s revised climate action plan is a complete pipe dream. It lacks critical information on the very real risks that its policies will fail to deliver the cuts needed to meet legally binding carbon reduction targets and relies too heavily on unproven technologies.

“The government ought to just come clean that this is a reckless, high-risk plan, and should come up with a credible and lawful strategy that ensures all our climate targets are met - including our international pledge to cut emissions two thirds by 2030. 

“Climate action is not only good for the planet, it’s essential for creating new jobs and business opportunities, boosting energy security and reducing our reliance on costly fossil fuels.” 


Sam Hunter Jones, the lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “The UK government continues to rely on pie-in-the-sky measures to address a crisis that needs real, immediate action – an approach the UK’s flagship law the Climate Change Act was designed to prevent. 

“Instead of plugging the gaps identified by their own expert advisors, ministers are standing behind a strategy that is riddled with policy holes and reliance on risky techno-fixes.

"This approach flies in the face of key legal requirements and puts the UK well off track from meeting its legally binding commitments, which is why we’re back in court.” 

Emma Dearnaley, the legal director of Good Law Project, said: “The government has admitted to us that, on its own assessments, its net zero plan is fraught with risks. Many of its flagship policies could fail to be achieved by the legally-binding deadlines, yet ministers are stubbornly keeping vital information under lock and key to save embarrassment.

“With so much at stake for our planet and our economy, that needs to change. The sooner we can see what the risks are, the sooner the government will have to face up to the shortcomings in its net zero strategy and take action to fix them. So as soon as the risk tables are mentioned in court, we plan to publish them for all to see.”

This Author

Ruby Harbour is the editorial assistant at The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Friends of the Earth.

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