UK Government is failing to close the 'policy gap'
Youth activist Daze Aghaji and Skipsea resident Peter Garforth instructed Hausfeld to take action to hold the Government to account for its failures to adopt adequate policies to combat climate change and on 25 May 2022 the Court granted permission for them to bring a Judicial Review in relation to the Government's carbon budgets - the first solely focused on individual claimants.
The Government’s legal commitments in respect of emissions reductions
To ensure a reduction of emissions in the UK, the Government is legally required to adopt binding ‘carbon budgets’ every five years, with each carbon budget capping the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Combined, the carbon budgets – if strictly adhered to – would allow the Government to achieve its ‘net zero’ target by 2050. The UK is also a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which means a legally binding commitment for the Government to ensure reductions in emissions in the lead up to 2050.
Carbon budgets are set by the Government on advice from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) – an independent statutory body which monitors and advises on progress towards the 2050 ‘net zero’ target.
Not abiding by the Paris Agreement or failing to achieve net zero targets by 2050 has disastrous implications for climate change around the world, including in the UK.
The Government has failed to close the policy gap
The CCC has repeatedly found that the Government has failed to put in place policies which are adequate to meet the fourth, fifth and sixth carbon budgets. Indeed, the CCC has repeatedly advised the Government that its policies fall significantly short of being able to meet the relevant targets. This is what is referred to as the ‘policy gap’.
The Government’s failure to comply with its legal obligations affects all people and the whole of society today as well as future generations. The effects of climate change worsen with continued inaction. This will put already vulnerable communities in an increasingly vulnerable position. For example, residents in UK coastal areas have seen their houses surrender to rising sea levels, and more recently, areas of the UK have been subjected to extreme weather events.
Who's taking action?
Daze Aghaji and Peter Garforth have instructed Hausfeld to bring the Government to account.
Daze is a history and politics student at Goldsmiths and was the youngest candidate for the EU elections. She experienced devastating flooding near Skegness as a teen before later seeing her family in Nigeria lose their home to the same fate. Now an experienced climate activist and public speaker, she is a passionate advocate for change to fight the climate crisis. In a recent vlog she discusses her hopes for COP26 with Hausfeld.
Peter is a resident of Skipsea, East Yorkshire, which is the fastest eroding coastline in Northern Europe and one of the most vulnerable communities in the whole of England to the impacts of climate change-related sea-level rise. Peter has long been fighting on behalf of his community for the Government to provide sea defences and sea walls, but it continues to turn a blind eye. There used to be 25 houses in Peter’s community but, owing to coastal erosion accelerated by the Government’s inaction, nine houses have been lost to the sea – and five this year alone.
Action taken so far
On 6 September 2021, Daze and Peter wrote a letter to the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP (the Prime Minister), the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, who is also President for COP 26, and the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP (Chancellor of the Exchequer). The letter took the form of a pre-action letter, setting out their proposed legal case to the above parties requesting a response by 20 September 2021. The Government responded on 4 October 2021.
In the first letter, Daze and Peter requested that the Government ensures that its Net Zero Strategy paper, due to be published by September 2021, sufficiently plugs the policy gap and also sets out a blueprint for the net zero target to be reached by 2050.
Having reviewed the Government’s response and Net Zero Strategy paper, Daze and Peter then wrote to the Government for a second time on 27 January 2022, requesting that the Government publishes a revised Net Zero Strategy paper to ensure that the sixth carbon budget will be met.
Absent a satisfactory response from the Government, Daze and Peter lodged an application for judicial review in the English High Court at the end of March 2022. A judicial review is a legal process by which a judge will review the lawfulness of the Government’s consistent failures and, if appropriate, direct that the Government adopts a revised Net Zero strategy which plugs the policy gap.
Besides Hausfeld, Daze and Peter are also supported by leading barristers Marc Willers QC from Garden Court Chambers, and Estelle Dehon from Cornerstone Barristers.
On 25 May 2022, their application was granted permission by the Court. A set of claims brought on similar grounds by a number of NGOs will be heard together on 8 June and our case is stayed pending the outcome of those claims, which we will follow with great interest, given the relevance to our claims.
Thanks to the generous support from the public, Daze and Peter were able to bring legal proceedings to hold the Government to account. The English courts apply the ‘adverse cost rule’ meaning that in the unfortunate event Daze and Peter are not successful, they will be liable for the opposite party’s cost. On the basis that this constitutes an Aarhus claim, the Government’s costs will be capped at £5,000 each – thus £10,000 in total – this amount was raised via crowdfunding, for which Daze and Peter are very grateful.
Hausfeld agreed a special fee arrangement for the initial phases of the case. If we are granted permission to proceed, the judicial review will require a significant further investment of time by the legal team and therefore, to enable Daze and Peter to continue to hold the government to account, donations are greatly appreciated and can be made via the funding page.
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