UK government net zero policies and its efforts to tackle climate change are ‘an embarrassment to the nation’, according to a top environmental lawyer.
Richard Smith, partner at Sandstone Law, says UK government net zero policies will have to be improved and action greatly increased in order to comply with the Climate Change Act and meet legally-binding agreements after its policies were deemed unlawful by the UK High Court.
“The government is not complying with its legal obligations to address climate change,” Smith says. “In July this year the High Court held that the Net Zero Strategy, which sets out plans to decarbonise the economy, doesn’t meet the government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act to produce detailed climate policies that show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets will be met. It also finds that parliament and the public were kept in the dark about a shortfall in meeting a key target to cut emissions.
“It was almost unbelievable to learn that our government’s Net Zero Carbon Strategy is unlawful. I have been practicing environmental law for a long time and the implementation by the government of almost every environmental protection policy it has launched has been dismal.
“The only environmental laws that have made any beneficial difference have emanated from European law, but Brexit has killed off any hope of enlightenment from the European Commission ever crossing the English Channel again. The current Conservative government has accepted the High Court’s ruling. It needs to start again. That begs the question; what on earth has it been doing?
“Honestly, it’s an embarrassment to the nation. The UK hosted COP26 last year and Boris Johnson’s administration made a big deal of it, but it was obviously all a lot of hot air. We have been waiting for a strategy to be published but what have now seen it lamentable. It is well known that to avoid an inexorable slide into a climate disaster, we need to do something urgently in the next 8 years; and something big.
“Lizz Truss has hardly mentioned climate change, but having worked for Shell before becoming an MP, why would she? Oh, yes, the climate emergency that (almost) everyone else accepts as a reality; perhaps she has not noticed.
“Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks that the solution to low carbon energy is lots of new nuclear power stations across the country, but they take decades to build and start generating electricity. “This situation has been coming for decades and this government is letting us all down. The impact of climate change on all our lives and the economy will be serious and long lasting. Something needs to happen very quickly.
“Farming policy was absent from the Net Zero Carbon strategy. There was no explanation for this and given that the government backed a late addition to the COP26 agreement to dramatically reduce methane emissions, it is bizarre that it seems to have forgotten about it.
“But let’s be impartial for a moment; where are the Labour Party’s green policies? To frack or not to frack? Nuclear or no nuclear? On-shore wind farms or only off-shore? How will older properties get insulated? How will tens of millions of homes change from gas fired boilers to air-source heat pumps or hydrogen fuelled heating? The Tories have failed on all of this. Labour needs to show it has better solutions and that they will work. We all deserve this.
“The government will now have to update its climate strategy to include a quantified account of how its policies will achieve climate targets, based on a realistic assessment of what it actually expects them to deliver. The updated strategy will have to be presented to parliament for scrutiny by MPs.”