A High Court judge has postponed a decision on whether 11 British citizens will be able to take their climate case against the UK government to a full trial.
Climate legal group Plan B and the 11 plaintiffs brought the case to try to compel Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (Beis), to increase the ambition of the UK’s 2050 carbon target.
“The UK is not doing enough,” Tim Crosland, director of Plan B told Climate Home News. “The benchmark target is now out of place. We are arguing that it is a breach of human rights.”
The UK has committed to cut emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, with an aim to limit global temperature rise to 2C.
Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, the secretary can revise the target to reflect significant developments in climate change science or in international law or policy.
Plan B want to see the target lowered to be in line with 1.5C, the lower target of the Paris Agreement, which the UK ratified in 2016.
“All we can do is wait,” said Crosland, after the decision was postponed. “Our lawyers say we should have it within two weeks”.
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The group of plaintiffs, aged between nine and 79 years old, began their legal case against the UK government in December 2017, after failing to persuade Clark to revise the carbon target when they first wrote with concerns to the secretary in April.
Inside the full courtroom, which included a class of schoolchildren, Plan B lawyers questioned how the government could sign the Paris climate accord but not be bound by its goals.
CHN heard one of the 14-year-old schoolchildren, who had travelled to the hearing from the east coast, saying “that was so cool”, after leaving the court for lunch.
Farhana Yamin, an environmental lawyer and CEO of zero-emissions organisation Track-0, said that the significance of the case for the Paris Agreement would be felt worldwide. “It is helping us understand the legal requirements for Paris,” she told CHN.
The Paris deal centres on “long-term elements”, Yamin said, such as keeping global warming limited to 1.5C. But the political changes to achieve the goals “have to be done now”.
“People are demanding more action,” she added.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas Tweeted her support for the case, writing that the government “apparently thinks [aligning the climate target with science and law] is too much to ask”
Today is the day! @PlanB_earth & 11 citizens are in court demanding UK climate targets that align with science and law. Government apparently thinks this is too much to ask. Catastrophic political inertia requires collective legal action #UKClimateLawsuit #LitigateToMitigate
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) July 4, 2018
A Beis spokesperson said that the UK is “a world leader on clean growth, and since 1990 have reduced carbon emissions by more than 40% – faster than any other G7 country”.
“We’ll continue to work with the UK’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), on the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets,” they added.
Beis also said that they will seek advice from the CCC after the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on 1.5C later this year.
Crosland said the UK’s climate leadership was under threat. “The gloss is coming off its reputation a little bit, that’s why [raising ambition] is important,” he said.
This case follows the footsteps of similar climate litigation in the US, Pakistan, and across Europe. In May, the European Union was sued by ten families from around the world and an indigenous Swedish youth association over its emissions target.
The successful Urgenda case, where the organisation and 900 Dutch citizens won against the government for a stronger 2020 target, was also back in court in May after an appeal from the government challenging the court’s right to rule on policy decisions.
The UK has recently lost several High Court battles over the adequacy of its plans to fight air pollution.
The judge at Wednesday’s permission hearing, Michael Supperstone, did not say when he would make his decision.