Last year we reported on two judicial review challenges to government policy on climate change, one in the Netherlands, the other in the UK.
The Netherlands challenge brought by Urgenda resulted in an order that that the Netherlands State be ordered to achieve a reduction so that the cumulative volume of Netherlands greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced at least by 25%, by the end of 2020, relative to 1990 levels. The Netherlands State appealed against the order and the Dutch Supreme Court heard the case on 24 May 2019 and a judgment is expected over the summer.
The UK challenge was brought by Plan B and sought judicial review of the UK government’s decision not to amend the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act 2008 in the light of article 2(1) (a) the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which the UK has ratified, the parties commit to: “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The challenge failed and leave to appeal was rejected earlier this year.
Since then the UK Committee on Climate Change, in line with the findings of the IPCC in October 2018, has recommended a new emissions target for the UK of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. The previous target was to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 (“the 2050 target”) is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. This week a statutory instrument, the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, was laid amending the Climate Change Act 2008 so that ‘80%’ is replaced by ‘100%’.
This is a ‘net’ figure, which allows for the ability to use international carbon credits to offset emissions within an appropriate monitoring, reporting and verification framework. In addition, under s.30(1) of the Act emissions from international aviation and shipping do not count as emissions from sources in the UK. The Government have said that they will review the ‘net zero’ target within 5 years to check that other countries are following suit, and, if not, reserve the right to revert to the original 80% target.
To stabilise at 1.5 degrees over pre industrial levels by 2100 the IPCC has stated that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere should not exceed 430 parts per million, and for stabilising at 2 degrees the levels should not exceed 450 per million. Last month a reading at a weather station in Hawaii recorded 415 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. The current annual rate of increase is in the order of 3 parts per million.