The UK government is failing to honour its international commitments on climate change, according to climate charity Plan B and 11 British citizens, whose case was heard in the High Court on Wednesday, 04 July.
The High Court was expected to rule on the day on whether their claim goes to full trial. However, the hearing ran over its scheduled slot to allow all arguments to be heard, and Justice Supperstone, the High Court judge, said he’d deliver his decision at a later date. The judgement is expected within two weeks but may not be delivered until the summer.
The case seeks to compel the government to revise the UK’s 2050 carbon target and specify a new one based on the latest scientific knowledge and the goals set out by the Paris Agreement which the UK has advanced, signed and ratified.
The claimants argue the government’s failure is illegal, irrational and a breach of their fundamental human rights.
World-leading climate scientist James Hansen, whose testimony to the US Congress in 1988 sounded the global alarm on climate change, said, ‘This case could have a big impact on the whole global situation.’
The government’s own former chief scientist, David King, has also expressed support for the action, as has politician Caroline Lucas and a coalition of top doctors. Attorney General to HRH The Prince of Wales, Jonathan Crow QC, is one of the barristers representing the group in court.
In 2008 the Climate Change Act set out a target based on the belief that limiting global warming to 2˚C would be enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The situation has subsequently deteriorated and in 2015, governments around the world adopted the Paris Agreement, which committed them to limiting warming to ‘well below’ 2˚C while aiming for a 1.5˚C limit.
In responding to Plan B’s legal action, which was filed in September 2017, business secretary Greg Clark claimed that the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), had advised him that a more ambitious target was not possible.
But the CCC directly contradicted this point and stated that it had in fact said that a more ambitious target for 2050 was possible.
The business secretary is now claiming that his decision was based on a view that the current target is ‘not incompatible’ with the Paris Agreement. Yet in April he stated an intention to review the position (without actually commissioning a review and without defining terms of reference or a time frame).
‘The UK government claims international leadership on climate change and cites the Paris Agreement as an example of this leadership. Yet in October 2016 and January 2018, business secretary Greg Clark took a deliberate decision to keep the UK carbon target tied to the 2˚C goal rejected as inadequate by both scientists and governments – including his own. He has kept these decisions hidden from the general public, which have now come to light only as a result of these legal proceedings.’
Director of Plan B and former government lawyer
‘Climate change is the most serious threat facing humanity’, Tim Crosland adds. ‘Governments know that urgent and radical action is required to avoid tragedy – that’s why they signed the Paris Agreement – so it’s criminal and scandalous, and a betrayal of all the young people in this country, that they don’t act now. It’s the moral responsibility of all well-informed people to hold them to account and our case is part of a fast-growing movement of climate litigation around the world.’
In 2015 a citizens platform in the Netherlands, called Urgenda, took the Dutch government to court for failing to do enough to tackle climate change. The Court ruled in its favour and ordered the Dutch Government to raise its ambition. Similar cases are underway in the US, Belgium, Uganda, India and Ireland and the EU.
Plan B and 11 citizens, aged nine to 79, are represented by the solicitors Bindmans and the barristers Jonathan Crow QC and Emily MacKenzie.
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