Courts hold governments to account for climate change


The UK High Court has ruled that the British government’s Net Zero Strategy breaches the Climate Change Act 2008. Meanwhile, the New Zealand High Court is expected to rule on a similar case, Simpson Grierson reports

At the heart of the case, coinciding with Britain’s hottest day on record, was the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy, which sets out the government’s policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the net zero target by 2050.

The claimants, a group of NGOs, challenged the legality of the Strategy by way of judicial review, alleging that the Secretary of State had approved it without having enough information about how carbon budgets would be reached. The Court upheld the challenge, finding also that the Secretary had failed to provide a report containing explanations about how his policies would enable carbon budgets to be met.

The lawyers for the claimants have hailed the judgment as a victory for transparency and accountability in terms of government action to address climate change.

The New Zealand claim: does the Climate Commission’s emissions plan go far enough?

In February this year, the New Zealand High Court heard a challenge by Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand (LCANZI) to the Climate Commission’s advice to the Government on emissions reduction.

LCANZI claims that the Commission’s calculations contain errors and that that its plan is insufficient to meet the targets required.

The High Court’s judgment is pending and is expected to be delivered soon. It remains to be seen whether our judiciary will find, as the UK court did, that more needs to be done by the Government to meet its climate change obligations.

Why do these cases matter?

While the factual basis for the UK and New Zealand cases is different, they both involve judicial review of decisions relevant to governmental strategy on climate change.

The judicial review process is one of the most widely used tools in climate change litigation as claimants increasingly seek to hold governments to account in relation to their plans to meet emission reductions targets.

We expect actions of these kinds to continue to grow in line with public concern about the effects of the climate crisis.