What's the Net Zero Strategy and why are we trying to fix it?

In March 2022, Friends of the Earth was given the green light to take the government to court over two of its climate strategies. Find out what the Net Zero Strategy is and why we should try to fix it.
  Published:  02 Mar 2022    |      3 minute read

What's the Net Zero Strategy?

The Net Zero Strategy is a UK government strategy that sets out plans to reduce climate-wrecking emissions and decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy, from transport to agriculture. These plans are needed to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050, and the shorter-term targets that ensure action starts now, and isn't kicked down the road.

The term "net zero" refers to net zero carbon emissions.

Getting to net zero means removing as many emissions as we produce, which is vital if we’re to get a grip on climate breakdown. That includes polluting less and holding big fossil fuel companies to account, as well as re-thinking how we use our land and natural resources.

The strategy was published in October 2021, and includes measures such as:

  • Ending the sale of new petrol and diesel vans and cars by 2030.
  • Grants to help some households upgrade from gas boilers to low-carbon heating systems like heat pumps.
  • Incentives for farmers to use low-carbon farming methods.

How would the strategy affect your life?

We'll all benefit if the Net Zero Strategy does what it’s supposed to and delivers emissions reductions and a more climate-friendly economy. Better public and active transport (like cycle lanes and buses) and more electric cars will reduce pollution on roads. More trees will help clean our air and protect nature, while expanding our renewable energy sector will ensure more energy security. In other words, a greener and healthier world for all. So...

Is the Net Zero Strategy any good?

The Net Zero Strategy is supposed to paint a clear picture of how the government will meet the legal carbon-reduction targets it's signed up to. We think it should also include solid figures showing how each piece of the puzzle, from the electrification of vehicles to waste reduction, contributes to reducing overall emissions.

But our experts have pored over the 400-page strategy and say it’s riddled with holes and omissions.

For starters, it’s not clear whether the government has factored in the emissions that will result from its own policies, like its £27 billion road-building programme or plans for airport expansions.

And it gets worse. Further concerns include:

  • No promise to end the use of fossil fuels.
  • A lack of investment to fund measures.
  • Overreliance on technology that hasn't even even been rolled out yet, such as “sustainable” aviation fuel, carbon capture and storage, and magic animal feed that stops cows and sheep belching methane (a powerful greenhouse gas).

But the major issue is that the strategy doesn’t contain any assessment of the impact of the proposed policies – it’s all theoretical. It's like claiming you're definitely going to lose those Christmas pounds in January by just saying that you'll go to the gym tomorrow. There’s no way for parliament or the public to know whether the government is going to meet its legal targets.

As our lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, says: “A rapid and fair transition to a safer future requires a plan that shows how much greenhouse gas reduction the chosen policies will achieve, and by when. That the plan for achieving net zero is published without this information in it is very worrying, and we believe is unlawful”.

What's Friends of the Earth doing about it?

In January 2022, we filed papers with the high court asking for a judicial review into the government's Net Zero Strategy on the basis that it doesn’t comply with the Climate Change Act 2008, which we helped create.

Under the 2008 Act, the Secretary of State has a legal obligation to set out how the UK will actually meet carbon reduction targets. But the strategy's proposals to reach net zero aren't supported by the necessary policies. That means the strategy isn’t lawful and it doesn’t allow parliament and members of the public like you and me to hold the government accountable.

We also requested to take government to court over its failure to consider the impact of its October 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy on protected groups (such as older people, disabled people, and people of colour), which is a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010, and designing the strategy without factoring in specific needs relating to race, disability, gender and age.

As de Kauwe asserts, "not only is this a flagrant breach of the Equality Act 2010, but shows a disregard for known inequalities exacerbating things like fuel poverty, and ultimately we think it is unlawful."

In March 2022 we received exciting news: the High Court granted us permission to take the government to court over both strategies and on all of our grounds. Our legal team is now hard at work preparing for the full court hearing with our barristers and the law firm Leigh Day.

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