Government facing prospect of more legal action over its climate policies

The Government is potentially facing more legal action after releasing a “lacklustre” set of climate policies, Friends of the Earth (FoE) has said.

Responding to the Government’s energy announcements, the environmental NGO said it is “poised to act” if the revised net-zero strategy fails to meet its legal obligations.

Last year, FoE, along with ClientEarth and the Good Law Project, took the Government to the High Court over its net-zero strategy which was found to be unlawful.

The court said it was lacking policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to meet legally-binding carbon budgets.

The Government has missed an open goal here

Professor Nick Ayre, University of Oxford

A revised version will be published on Thursday morning following a set of repackaged ideas for funding which environmental analysts and business leaders had hoped would kick start the UK’s green industrial revolution.

Mike Childs, head of policy at FoE, said: “Friends of the Earth successfully took legal action against the Government’s previous net-zero strategy because it failed to show how legally-binding climate targets would be met.

“With these policies looking dangerously lacklustre and lacking on climate action, we will be combing through the detail of the amended strategy and are poised to act if ministers have fallen short once again.”

Among the Government’s list of repackaged announcements are £20 billion in funding for carbon capture; £160 million for port infrastructure to help expand offshore wind; support to insulate homes; establishing Great British Nuclear; offering £5,000 grants towards heat pump insulation and £10 billion to UK Export Finance.

What was billed with huge hype as the Government’s green day turns out to be a weak and feeble groundhog day of re-announcements, reheated policy, and no new investment

Ed Miliband, shadow climate secretary

More than £380 million will also go towards improving the number of electric vehicle charge points and infrastructure while the heat pump grant has been extended to 2028.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “When global energy supplies are disrupted and weaponised by the likes of Putin, we have seen household bills soar and economic growth slow around the world.

“We have stepped in to shield people from its worst impacts by helping to pay around half the typical energy bill.

“But we are also stepping up to power Britain and ensure our energy security in the long term with more affordable, clean energy from Britain, so we can drive down energy prices and grow our economy.”

The Government has been keen to stress that its announcements are for energy security, not a green industrial revolution.

Many scientists, campaigners and green entrepreneurs were expecting a set of policies to spark investment that would rival the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU Green Industrial Plan.

They said the Government’s Powering Up Britain energy security plan is a missed opportunity.

Professor Nick Eyre of the University of Oxford said: “The Government has missed an open goal here.

“The most effective and lowest cost measures to address energy security concerns are investment in renewable energy and energy demand reduction.

“These are precisely the same measures that the latest IPCC report shows are central to achieving net zero. Yet the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Secretary of State all fail even to mention the key role of energy saving.

“Instead, the Government has prioritised support for more costly, environmentally damaging and risky options, such as nuclear power and fossil fuel technology. It is a huge missed opportunity.”

RenewableUK’s executive director of policy, Ana Musat, said: “These announcements do not go far enough to attract the investment we need in the renewable energy sector – we need much bolder action to secure Britain’s clean energy future.

“Global competition for investment in renewable energy projects is fiercer than ever and the UK risks falling behind and surrendering our global lead.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said on Wednesday that he will outline the UK’s response to the EU’s green industrial strategy in the autumn once he has seen what the EU will do.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate and net-zero secretary, said: “These announcements are most notable for their glaring omissions: no removal of the onshore wind ban which is costing families hundreds of pounds on bills, no new investment for energy efficiency which could cut bills and imports, no response to the Inflation Reduction Act which could help Britain win the global race for clean energy jobs.

“What was billed with huge hype as the Government’s green day turns out to be a weak and feeble groundhog day of reannouncements, reheated policy, and no new investment.”

The Government will also publish its response to Chris Skidmore MP’s review into how the UK can reach net zero by 2050.

It said it is acting partly or fully upon 23 of the 25 recommendations made by Mr Skidmore in his January report.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are fully behind our commitment to reach net zero by 2050 – delivering net zero in the UK and around the world is the solution to the challenges we’re all facing, enabling us increase energy security, reverse slowing economic growth, and tackle climate change.

“The UK has hit every carbon budget to date and we have already come a long way to meet that target – cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and with low-carbon sources like renewables and nuclear providing half of the UK’s electricity generation.

“That’s why we’re setting out our plans today – representing a firm commitment to delivering our future carbon budgets and net zero target, providing significant details on proposals and policies far into the future.”

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Government facing prospect of more legal action over its climate policies