Court wins show the Climate Change Act has teeth – now our leaders must live up to its ambitions  

The government’s weak and inadequate strategy for tackling the climate crisis is heading where it belongs – the recycling bin – after a landmark ruling by the High Court found its plan for decarbonising the economy is unlawful.

Astonishingly, given the existential threat of rising global temperatures and the urgent need to take action to protect the planet now and for future generations, this is the second time in less than two years that the government’s climate plan has been thrown out by the courts.

In July 2022, the government’s previous plan was also found to be in breach of the Climate Change Act, following legal challenges by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project – the same organisations that mounted the latest successful judicial review.

The judge has ordered that a new climate strategy must now be drawn up within 12 months. The government has attempted to dismiss the case as being “about process”, but this is deeply misleading when the court case revealed substantial holes their climate plans.

Namely, that it rests on the assumption that all its policies would achieve 100% of their intended emissions cuts. None of us would run a business, or even our household budget, on the assumption that 100% of our plans work perfectly. But this is what this case has shown our government, acting in our name, has done.

As former chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Lord Deben, who provided a powerful witness statement in support of Friends of the Earth’s case, said: “Their fundamental assumption was that everything would go to plan: no shortfalls; no failures; nothing unforeseen; no margin for error.”

Yet the court case revealed that in their assessment of the policy package in November 2022, officials had ‘low or very low confidence’ in it achieving around half of the emissions reductions required to meet two crucial climate targets – the sixth carbon budget and the pledge to reduce emissions by over two thirds by 2030.

The judge concluded that in approving these plans, the Secretary of State had acted irrationally and on the basis of an incorrect understanding of the facts.

This second defeat has added to an embarrassing weekend for the government, amid heavy losses in the local elections. Both should be seen as damning indictments of the government’s weak climate policies and failure to grasp the huge opportunities of investing in green growth to create jobs and boost the economy.

The question now is how do we defeat the political short-termism that’s preventing the real action needed to cut emissions and achieve our national and international climate goals?

Despite everything going on in the world and the continuing cost of living crisis, people across the political spectrum want strong green policies and action to cut emissions, reduce bills and improve our energy security.

The local election results demonstrate this and give a clear mandate for ambitious climate leadership.  The Conservatives’ drubbing and support for parties that want to better protect our health and our planet, show that the government’s backtracking on its green pledges and cynical attempts to turn climate into a culture war issue are backfiring.

It’s not surprising that the government’s failures on climate policy are hitting the UK’s ability to meet it legally binding climate targets at home and globally. According to the CCC, the government only has credible plans in place for less than a fifth of the emissions cuts needed to achieve the sixth carbon budget.

Meanwhile, recent Friends of the Earth analysis found that Rishi Sunak’s repeated international pledge to cut UK emissions by over two thirds by 2030 has veered dangerously off track, with the emissions gap growing enormously under his leadership.

Heading towards a likely general election this year, this is clearly at odds with what the majority of voters of all parties who want to see from government – action on climate now, not kicked down the road.

Our court win is significant because we’ve shown once again that the Climate Change Act has the teeth to hold our political leaders to account for meeting their legal requirements to cut emissions.

The act was brought into force in 2008, following a successful campaign led by Friends of the Earth with huge public support and with the backing of an overwhelming majority of MPs from all parties.

But now, more than ever, as we rack up global temperature records and the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, we need to see a resurgence of the kind of leadership and cross-party consensus on climate that enacted this world-leading piece of legislation.

Our political leaders should take heed of the local elections results and ramp up ambition on climate and the environment in the run up to the general election.

This must include a bold, new climate action plan that puts our climate goals back on track and ensures we all benefit from a fair, green transition.

Weak and reckless climate plans have left the UK lagging in the global race to a zero-carbon economy when we should be benefitting from the lower energy bills, long-term jobs and boost to businesses that investing in green growth would bring.

We need a government that’s prepared to seize these opportunities and deliver a lawful climate plan that protects the planet now and for future generations. Or we’re prepared to see whoever’s in power in court – again. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our free daily newsletter here.