In 2008, the UK Government passed the Climate Change Act 2008, which aimed to commit the UK to making a “fair” contribution to maintaining the politically recognised global climate change limit of 2˚C. The “carbon target” was set at making an 80% reduction of emissions by 2050 compared to a 1990 baseline.
In December 2015, the UK Government, along with 197 others, adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which rejected the 2˚C limit as inadequate and dangerous, and committed government to limiting warming to “well below” 2˚C, while aiming for 1.5˚C.
Yet by April 2017, the Government had still made no plans to conduct a review of the Climate Change Act, to align its domestic carbon target to the Paris Agreement it was committed to.
That’s when Plan B began writing to both the Government and the Committee on Climate Change, urging them to take action.
by September 2017 we had not received a satisfactory response from either, so we issued a formal “letter before legal action”. As we still didn’t get any commitment to revising the target, we issued formal legal proceedings in December 2017 along with 11 UK Citizens from all walks of life.
Just one month later the Committee on Climate Change recommend the Government undertake a review. By April 2018 the Government had agree to conduct a review and by June 2019 they had introduced a new target of “net zero” by 2050, which though still dangerous, inequitable and inadequate, was an improvement on what went before.
No doubt influenced by these developments, the Court refused us a full hearing on the case. The lesson, from our perspective, was that litigation could make things happen, whether inside or outside Court.
Case Correspondence & Documentation
On 13 April 2017, Plan B wrote urging the Secretary of State to:
(a) exercise his power to revise the carbon target for 2050, aligning it to the global climate obligation and the Paris Agreement; and
(b) take reasonable and proportionate measures to safeguard the right to life.
Also on 13 April 2017, Plan B wrote to the CC Committee urging it to revise the 2016 Committee Recommendation.
The CC Committee responded on 2 May 2017 asking Plan B to provide some further analysis in support of its case.
Plan B responded to that request on 19 May 2017.
Plan B chased a response from the Secretary of State and received a brief acknowledgement on 29 June 2017 indicating a substantive response would be received “shortly”. Plan B responded the same day to highlight the urgency of the matter. No further response has been received.
On 7 August 2017, the CC Committee again acknowledged in a letter to Plan B that:
“… the Paris Agreement describes a higher level of ambition than the one that formed the basis of the UK’s existing legislated emission reduction targets.”
26 September 2017: Plan B serves UK Government with formal ‘Pre-Action Protocol Letter’ challenging its ongoing failure to set a carbon target that accords with science and international law.
24 October 2017: The Government sends Plan B its response, confirming its refusal to revise the carbon target.
3 January 2018: High Court seals our Claim form, which we serve on Secretary of State for BEIS (the Defendant) and the Committee on Climate Change (the interested Party). Both have 21 days to submit their responses.
29 January 2018: Secretary of State for BEIS file his Summary Grounds. CCC files its Summary Grounds.Their respective positions conflict. BEIS claims to be acting on CCC advice that a more ambitious 2050 target is unfeasible. CCC says that a more ambitious target is in fact feasible.
12 February 2018: Plan B files and serves a Reply to Summary Grounds, highlighting the inconsistency between the positions of the Secretary of State and the CCC.
14 February 2018:Lang J declines to grant permission on the papers
22 February 2018: Plan B files to renew its application for permission.
20 March 2018: Permission hearing to take place at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. Judge Nicola Davies adjourns the case on the grounds that:
- a full day’s hearing is required
- the CCC should file a further response
10 April 2018: CCC submits a further response, stating that the basis of its advice to the government was that the current 2050 target was ‘potentially’ consistent with the Paris Agreement. It emphasises that its advice was that greater ambition was in fact feasible.
17 April 2018: Claire Perry, the Energy Minister at BEIS, states: “I am pleased to announce that after the IPCC report later this year, we will be seeking advice from the UK’s independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.”
Climate change: Ministers should be ‘sued’ over targets (BBC, September 2017)
Can climate litigation save the world? (The Guardian, March 2017)
Court action to save young from climate bill (BBC, July 2018)
Supporting peer-reviewed publications (published here with kind permission of Lawtext)
Environmental Liability, Law, Policy and Practice, Vol 24, Issue 3, 2016
The Paris Agreement Implementation Blueprint: a practical guide to bridging the gap between actions and goal and closing the accountability deficit (Part 1)
Tim Crosland Plan B, UK
Aubrey Meyer The Global Commons Institute, UK
Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh University of the South Pacific, Vanuatu
Environmental Liability, Law, Policy and Practice, Vol 24, Issue 5, 2016
The Paris Agreement Implementation Blueprint: a practical guide to bridging the gap between actions and goal and closing the accountability deficit (Part 2)
Tim Crosland Plan B, UK
Aubrey Meyer The Global Commons Institute, UK
Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh University of the South Pacific, Vanuatu
Who are we?
We are the charity Plan B and a group of 11 concerned citizens aged between nine and 79. We are all worried about our futures.
MHB, 9, primary school student, London
"I’m worried about climate change because I think it will make the world a bad place to live in when I grow up. In the future, children, the elderly and most people with breathing difficulties, such as asthma, will struggle to enjoy their lives. I’m also worried about the effect that this will have on animals, particularly French pugs, which already have difficulty in breathing because of their narrow nostrils.
My family is originally from Algeria. When my mother was my age, the river where she used to play was wide and full. Now it’s hardly there at all. Greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to stop these things getting worse. If this doesn’t happen, we’ll end up living a life similar to a life inside an exhaust pipe. Believe me that’s not a good sign! Animals, plants and all other living things won’t be spared, they will also struggle very hard to find their oxygen intake."
Sebastien Kaye, 20, Human Geography and International Development student, Sussex University
"Unmitigated climate change represents the biggest global threat we face in the 21st century.
We need to overcome the “emissions gap” – the gap between the scientific reality of climate change and the political response to it. What is being done to reduce carbon emissions reductions, both nationally and internationally, is drastically insufficient to avoid catastrophic climate change. As a young adult, I’m particularly concerned about the lack of adequate political action to mitigate climate change, which directly threatens my future.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates, we will reach catastrophic climate tipping points within my adult life. The crisis that we’re heading towards will play a significant in my decision to have children, as I’m deeply concerned about bringing new life into a world affected by extremely dangerous levels of climate change.
Young people growing up in the UK shouldn’t be faced with the decision to have children or not due to the prospect of extremely dangerous global warming brought about by political inaction. Young people in the UK shouldn’t have to consider which areas of the country are most vulnerable to heightened levels of extreme weather and flooding when deciding where they want to live in the future."
Read Sebastian's witness statement here.
Maya Campbell, 21, Legal Researcher and Politics Student, Newcastle University
"I’m a young woman of colour studying the ethics of climate change. My concerns about climate change stem from questions regarding the sort of world I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in; from air quality to distribution of resources that are vital to our well-being. I’m concerned that the responsibility of climate change mitigation is being disproportionately given to future generations, and to us younger generations too.
I worry that increasingly intense hurricane seasons will make the Caribbean a dangerous place to live. My family lives in Jamaica and as it is very plausible that the devastation caused in the summer of 2017 will not just recur, but get worse. Furthermore, I’m concerned that the burdens of climate change will disproportionately affect women of colour.
I believe the Government has failed to set a carbon target that’s consistent with science and international law simply because it is challenging. That’s the wrong message to send, both to industry and to young people. Current climate targets are inconsistent with safeguarding human rights, given the impact climate change is likely to have on health, water and means of subsistence. I wholeheartedly believe that a judicial review of climate change targets is in the best interests of the UK."
Read Maya's witness statement here.
Paris Palmano, 22, Humanitarian worker and student, Sussex University
"In light of advances in the scientific consensus on climate change, I must take action to protect not only my own right to life, but also the rights of voiceless people across the world. I am deeply concerned
that my government, despite having the financial and technical ability to truly lead the world in this area, remains reluctant to take a significant step towards effective climate change mitigation. My government’s failure to set a target that is consistent with the scientific consensus and international law will only help lead the world onto a path of catastrophe and engender suffering on a scale yet unseen by human kind.
I believe the time has now come for strategic legal action. My ultimate goal is to contribute to the relief of human suffering in whichever capacity I can be most useful. We are in this urgent situation only because governments have delayed taking the necessary action for so long. Delay simply passes an increased burden on to the younger generation and generations to come. As I see it, the Government’s approach of delaying revision of the carbon target unfairly discriminates against the young, myself included."
Read Paris's witness statement here.
Lily Johnson, 31, Artist, London
"Through my work and my research as an artist, and through questioning my own habits, I have become increasingly aware of the environmental degradation being caused by human activity. We urgently need both national and global action to reduce emissions, not just drastically, but sufficiently, to avert disaster. I don’t know whether I will have a child or not - I’d like to become a parent one day, but like many of my peers I have serious doubts as to whether it is right or fair to have a child.
We’re headed towards runaway climate change. I'm not worrying about whether my future child will to go to university, find a job or own their own home - I'm worried about whether they will have basic food and shelter. I'm worried about how they will keep warm and defend themselves. I'm worried about whether they will have the chance to grow old, and live for anything beyond basic survival.
What I do feel certain of, is that if we do not do whatever it takes, right now, in this present moment, it will be very clear to the next generation that we have betrayed them. The resolution to sufficiently reduce emissions must come first and innovation must follow. Not the other way around."
Rose Nakandi, Health and support worker, London
"I was born in Uganda, but I now live in London with my nine-year-old son. I’m concerned about climate change for my mother in Uganda and for me and my son here in the UK.
People in London talk about the weather a lot, but don’t usually take it too seriously. It’s different in Uganda, where lots of people are farmers. If there’s a drought, they go hungry. The climate is changing - when it rains, it rains too hard; when it’s hot, it’s too hot and all the crops dry out, and people really suffer.
More and more people are moving to Uganda from neighbouring countries where the droughts are even worse. Climate change is making people leave their homes. Farmers who can’t grow food are leaving for the cities, which is expensive for them and badly affects their families.
Climate change is causing more immigration into Europe, which makes life harder for immigrants who are already here. It is always hardest for the poorest.
The UK government knows what it needs to do, so it should do it. If it is too difficult for the UK to honour its international obligations then how are poorer countries like Uganda going to do it?"
Read Rose's witness statement here.
Tim Crosland, 47, Plan B director, London
"I left the Government Legal Service in February 2015 on a voluntary early exit package. Having begun to think seriously about the implications of climate change, I felt a responsibility to my children to understand the situation more deeply.
During previous work in Nigeria, I learned that the drying out of Lake Chad, largely through climate change, is displacing millions of people into territory held by the terrorist group Boko Haram. In Kenya, increasing drought, attributable to climate change, is driving subsistence farmers in their masses to head for the cities, exacerbating existing social tensions. Displacement from the Middle East and Africa is contributing to profound political changes across the UK, Europe and beyond.
I had a choice: I could either bury my head in the sand and carry on with ‘business as usual’; or do what I could for my children. The Government’s failure to act on unequivocal scientific advice on what needs to be done to reduce climate risks is unlawful - the contribution I can make as a lawyer is to subject the Government to legal scrutiny, and to pursue a rational, evidence-based response through the courts."
Read Tim's first witness statement here, his second witness statement here and his third witness statement here.
William Hare, 48, Litigation and insolvency lawyer, Tortola, the British Virgin Islands
"By chance, I was in the UK when Hurricane Irma hit Tortola in September. Irma was the first category 5 storm in the Eastern Caribbean, save for Hurricane Ivan in 2004, since I moved there in 1999, and one of the most powerful and destructive storms ever recorded. That was until Hurricane Maria hit two weeks later. My house was destroyed by Irma, and even now much of Tortola is still without power and schools remain closed. Although I have both home and business insurance, I have suffered considerable losses. But I consider myself relatively fortunate: my family was safe and most people have lost far more than me; as is almost invariably the case, the people with the least have lost the most as a result of these storms.
I’m fearful of the increased risk to the Caribbean Islands, and to other countries in the tropics, if climate change proceeds unchecked. Moreover, significant parts of the Caribbean lie at, or very close to, the current sea level, and face an existential threat from climate change. At some point property will become uninsurable. It is clear to me that determined action to tackle climate change is not “anti-business”; quite the opposite: it is essential - to business and to human survival."
Maya Doolub, 48, CEO and Founder of Small Sustainable Development Consulting Firm
"My family comes from Mauritius and I am on the Board of a number of NGOs concerned with the needs of small island developing states. It is critical to me, as a mother and grandmother, and as a daughter of parents that come from a small island, that we all assume responsibility for the catastrophic events we see as a result of climate change, and for increased resilience of islands for future generations. There is a serious risk that whole countries are going to disappear beneath the waves.
I am deeply concerned that Greg Clark has decided to retain a carbon target he knows is inconsistent with limiting warming to 1.5˚C – inconsistent, that is, with a sustainable future for my homeland. I cannot accept that Mr Clark has determined the challenge “too difficult” or “unfeasible”. If an international “climate leader” such as the British Government is not aiming for the survival of vulnerable island states, then their fate is sealed.
Despite Mauritius not being a significant polluter, we continue to suffer with violent cyclones and increased coastal erosion. I consider climate change to be the greatest challenge facing humanity, and an urgent and immediate threat to island states and my family in Mauritius."
Read Maya's witness statement here.
Dr Jo-anne Veltman, 49, Children’s doctor, Norwich
"I’m a children’s doctor and mother. We know that climate change is the greatest public health threat this century and a threat multiplier for other global concerns, such as mass migration and conflict. The risks to health from climate change are many and complex but there is also hope - the Lancet Commission and others say that climate action is “probably the greatest public health opportunity this century”.
This is a global issue affecting us all, but I cannot bear that the people who have done the least to contribute to climate change are most affected and also most vulnerable to its severest impacts. Whether my child or another woman’s child is at risk, I see little difference. We are all stakeholders in the health and wellbeing of our planet.
I feel compelled to bring this action along with Plan B because of the incredible urgency and seriousness of the climate-protecting task we are now facing. Expert scientists and health bodies are not being alarmist, but they are certainly raising the alarm. We have to act."
Read Jo-anne's witness statement here.
Rabbi Jeffrey Newman, 75, London
"Increasingly frequent extreme weather events are already affecting the most vulnerable across the globe. At such a time, when such threats are growing, where water scarcity and food shortages are leading to conflict and vast migrations across the world, multiple Biblical quotations echo in my mind: in the words of Isaiah: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the over mighty; defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
There is no doubt that the UK has been a leader, particular with the Climate Change Act, but the evidence suggests there is an urgent need for the revision of targets.
In the back of my mind, as a Jew, there is one further factor that I find impossible to dismiss. I was born in 1941, at the first stages of the attempted extermination of my people. The Holocaust has been a growing factor in my awareness about the “urgent need to protect our common home”, as well as the concept of the bystander.
It is difficult to conceive what the world might be like in 50 or 100 years if we do not limit global warming. I do not want my grandchildren to live through the devastations that catastrophic climate change might cause throughout the world without attempting to do all I can. I do not want to be the bystander, if I might do more."
Read Tim's witness statement here.
Dame Carmen Callil, 79, Publisher and writer, London
"When I think of the childhood and excellent life I have had, I feel extremely strongly that an undamaged world will not be offered to my god children, or any other children. I wish to do something about this, on their behalf, before I die. I am a resident of the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. I can see Grenfell Tower clearly from my windows. I only recently cleaned the soot from the fire from my windowsills. The Council ignored advice, warning and requests to address the hazards that led to the fire, perhaps because of imagined cost and inconvenience, or possibly the work was just put off to another day.
If the clocks could be turned back, the cladding could have been removed, and the residents listened to. There is a chilling parallel with the carbon target. The science is clear: the current target creates unacceptable risks of appalling tragedy. The Government does not deny this, but suggests that doing better is too difficult and can be put off.
Already wildfires are commonplace across Europe and beyond. Of course once the fire takes hold we do not get the chance to turn the clocks back. We are left to wish we had taken the necessary action while we could. “Too hard” is not an answer. Nor is “tomorrow”. The Government must aim to prevent disaster by setting an appropriate target and an example for others to follow."
Read Carmen's's witness statement here.