For immediate release

Historic legal challenge to hold UK government to account on climate change 

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The UK government is failing to honour its international commitments on climate change, according to climate charity Plan B and 11 British citizens, whose case is being heard in the High Court next Wednesday, 4 July.

Their case seeks to compel the government to revise the UK’s 2050 carbon target and specify a new one based on the latest scientific knowledge and the goals set out by the Paris Agreement which the UK has advanced, signed and ratified.

The claimants will argue the government’s failure is illegal, irrational and a breach of their fundamental human rights.

The High Court is expected to rule on the day on whether their claim goes to full trial.

World leading climate scientist, James Hansen, whose testimony to the US Congress in 1988 sounded the global alarm on climate change, said: ‘This case could have a big impact on the whole global situation.’

The government’s own former chief scientist, David King, has also expressed support for the action as has politician Caroline Lucas and a coalition of top doctors. Attorney General to HRH The Prince of Wales, Jonathan Crow QC, is one of the barristers representing the group in court.

In 2008 the Climate Change Act set out a target based on the belief that limiting global warming to 2˚C would be enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The situation has subsequently deteriorated and in 2015, Governments around the world adopted the Paris Agreement committing them to limiting warming to ‘well below’ 2˚C while aiming for a 1.5˚C limit.

Tim Crosland, Director of Plan B and former government lawyer, says: ‘The UK Government claims international leadership on climate change and cites the Paris Agreement as an example of this leadership.

‘Yet in October 2016 and January 2018, Business Secretary Greg Clark took a deliberate decision to keep the UK carbon target tied to the 2˚C goal rejected as inadequate by both scientists and governments – including his own. He has kept these decisions hidden from the general public, which have now come to light only as a result of these legal proceedings.’

In responding to Plan B’s legal action, which was filed in September 2017, Clark claimed that the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), had advised him that a more ambitious target was not possible.

But the CCC directly contradicted this point and stated that it had in fact said that a more ambitious target for 2050 was possible.

The Business Secretary is now claiming that his decision was based on a view that the current target is ‘not incompatible’ with the Paris Agreement. Yet in April he stated an intention to review the position (without actually commissioning a review and without defining terms of reference or a time-frame).

Tim Crosland adds: ‘Climate change is the most serious threat facing humanity. Governments know that urgent and radical action is required to avoid tragedy – that’s why they signed the Paris Agreement – so it’s criminal and scandalous, and a betrayal of all the young people in this country, that they don’t act now. It’s the moral responsibility of all well-informed people to hold them to account and our case is part of a fast-growing movement of climate litigation around the world.’

Plan B and 11 citizens, aged 9 to 79, are represented by the solicitors, Bindmans, and the barristers Jonathan Crow QC and Emily MacKenzie


Notes to editors:

  • The hearing with take place at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, starting at 10:00 or 10:30 hrs on 4 July and is listed for a full day. Because of the level of public interest in the case it will be heard in the largest courtroom in the RCJ, Court 76.The Court is likely to rule on whether the case is arguable at the conclusion of the hearing. There will be a ‘solidarity event’ outside the Court from 09:00hrs.
  • The legal action has received strong support from a range of backers including:

Dr James Hansen (see video statement at

Caroline Lucas: (see Caroline Lucas just threw her weight behind the mother of all court cases against the UK government” The Canary, 8.6.18

The BMJ and leading doctors: 8.12.17 “Top doctors back legal action against Government on carbon emissions” (Daily Mail)

Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientist: 27.9.17 “​Climate change: Ministers should be ‘sued’ over targets” (BBC)​

  • In 2008, the UK Government introduced the Climate Change Act, setting a UK carbon target for 2050, tied to what was then considered the ‘safe’ global limit of 2˚C of warming. The Act was the first of its kind, and is still used as a model by many countries around the world.
  • No-one thinks 2˚C is safe any more. The current scientific consensus is that the risks of crossing critical tipping points in the climate system rise sharply beyond 1.5˚C warming.
  • The Act provides for the Secretary of State (Minister) to revise the target in line with developments in science and law.
  • In December 2015, 195 Governments, including our own, signed the Paris Agreement. They pledged to hold warming to well below 2˚C and to aim for a limit of 1.5˚C
  • In 2015 a citizens platform in the Netherlands, called Urgenda, took the Dutch Government to court for failing to do enough to tackle climate change. The Court ruled in its favour and ordered the Dutch Government to raise its ambition. Similar cases are underway in the US, Belgium, Uganda, India and Ireland and the EU.
  • In March 2018, within weeks of the first Court hearing in this case, Claire Perry, the Energy Minister, announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) would commence a further review of the position at some point after October. BEIS made the news public only via Twitter.
  • No review has been formally commissioned, the terms of reference are entirely unclear, and no time-frame has been set. It impacts on the legal case only in so far as it is a tacit concession that the current targets are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement.
  • For further context see:

“Can Climate Litigation Save the World?” Damian Carrington, the Guardian, 20 March 2018

Interview with the director of Plan B, Tim Crosland, on Al Jazeera on the global climate emergency

  • Please include the link to the case Crowd Fund page:

For more information, contact

Tim Crosland 07795 316164 [email protected]; Kitsy Kinane 07850 135279 [email protected]

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