UK minister dismisses threat of climate court battle

Nick Hurd waved away suggestions the government could be taken to court over a shortfall in policy to meet binding emissions targets

Nick Hurd is climate minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Pic: Cabinet Office/Flickr)


The UK’s world-leading Climate Change Act has been “dangerously neglected”, leaving the government open to lawsuits.

That is the view of environmental lawyers at Client Earth, in a report published on Tuesday.

Climate minister Nick Hurd disagreed, saying that an emissions reduction plan due out in the first quarter of 2017 would put the country on track to meet its targets.

“Any talk of a legal challenge is very premature,” he told Climate Home on the sidelines of a conference organised by Chatham House in London.

Hurd affirmed his commitment to meeting climate goals “in the most cost-effective way”, aligning with an industrial strategy also under development in his department. Yet he offered scant policy detail.

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At issue is the legislation inked in 2008, which binds the UK to a series of “carbon budgets” that will reduce its emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

The targets are “as credible as any legal target could realistically be,” the Client Earth report states. But it warns that inconsistent policymaking has opened up a sizeable gap between ambition and action.

While coal plant closures and renewable energy growth are bending the emissions curve in line with goals to 2022, beyond that point the trajectory is unclear.

Five years ago, the government calculated the shortfall for 2023-27 at 187 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from Vietnam. It has not corrected course since, according to Client Earth.

Jonathan Church, lawyer at the NGO, said: “A policy and reporting reset is essential if we are to hit emissions targets. We can’t afford to drift for the next five years – as we have done for the last five years – without proper climate policies and progress.

“With its new Carbon Plan, the government has the chance to make the Act a living law and put the UK on the path to a clean, green energy future.”

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Hurd’s opposite number in the Labour Party, Barry Gardiner, endorsed the report.

“This government has talked up its commitment to climate change but has utterly failed to meet its statutory climate obligations,” he said.

“Their incoherent policymaking is sending deeply confusing signals to investors, and risks creating a costly, disruptive transition to the low-carbon economy we need.

“We will not allow government to publicly sign up to long term targets but totally fail to set out the necessary delivery plans that are required by law to achieve them.”

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