Despite seeking permission to appeal the High Court ruling of July 2022 (R (Friends of the Earth) v SSBEIS [2022] EWHC 1841 (Admin).) that its net zero strategy was unlawful as it failed to outline policies on the 13th October 2022 the newly appointed Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘quietly’ withdrawing from its intention to pursue an appeal against the ruling.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Client Earth and the Good Law Project who brought the challenge against the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy all welcomed the decision with Katie de Kauwe FoE lawyer stating “The government’s decision not to appeal is welcome news.  Ministers must now focus their energies on the action and detailed policies needed to address the climate crisis”.  Sam Hunter Jones senior lawyer at Client Earth in a similar vein “Now that the government has confirmed it will not be appealing, its efforts must now be directed at publishing a revised Net Zero Strategy that complies with July’s landmark judgement”.  Jo Maughan director of the Good Law Project again welcomed the news and said “Another embarrassing climbdown” and “Rather than threatening communities with fracking Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg should focus their efforts on improving the strategy so they meet the UK’s legally-binding climate targets and move away from the expensive fossil fuels to deliver on affordable energy”.

But the question remains will the UK government by March 2023 produce the necessary policies that complies with the July court ruling which in essence is to outline how its policies will achieve net zero.

There is a suspicion that there may be further ‘fudging’ and perhaps even a complete rehash of the Net Zero Strategy and that is because shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Liz Truss wasted no time in launching a review into Boris Johnson’s emission target which is being  chaired by MP Chris Skidmore.  The need for the review was cached in terms such as whether net zero is being met in an “economically efficient way” and will not “place undue burdens on business and consumers”.  The review is due to be completed and submitted to the Business and Energy Secretary before  the end of this year.  Jacob Rees-Mogg during his time as Brexit Opportunities minister under Boris Johnson’s government warned that “Net Zero is going to be a huge regulatory cost and that is an issue for the country to face and face up to”. Sir Ed Davey has referred to Jacob Rees-Mogg as a “climate dinosaur”.

The reality though must surely be that the UK cannot meet a net-zero commitment without clear policies that  transform its economy and industries.  With it being reported that regulation in this area is starting to evolve together with investor pressure, it has already had the effect of businesses increasingly coming forward with net-zero commitments.  Regulatory intervention therefore from the UK government could be argued to be one of the key drivers (amongst others) for businesses to achieve net zero.

In terms of financial impacts  whilst it is certainly true that there needs to be a balance and check on the financial burdens on business and people in the midst of an economic and cost of living crisis, there is also the need to balance the economic effects of climate change if effective action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions.  One report by insurance giant Swiss Re suggests that on current projections the effects of  climate change will by 2050 reduce global economic output by as much as $23 trillion.  

It is also not just the green movement that is seeking clear guidance from government in relation to achieving net zero. The CBI at its conference on Net Zero in June 2022 called for business to commit to decarbonisation and for the UK government to support the transition to net zero  by delivering strategies and providing detailed policy frameworks in order to get the UK on track to reach the target. 

Perhaps in an attempt to reassure the green movement, business and also the growing number of members of the public who want to see the UK government be more proactive in tackling climate change Jacob Rees-Mogg recently wrote in the Guardian “I am not a green energy sceptic”.

At the CoP 27 climate conference in Egypt Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary General) will be calling for the need for commitments from member states that will deliver a reduction of emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 in order to reach net zero emissions by mid-century.  Time we are told is running out for us to take action.

Whilst the Government’s commitment to Net Zero emissions by 2050 is still in place (Section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008), the route to how the UK is to get there is under doubt.