Chris Packham issues legal challenge to Prime Minister over net-zero rollbacks

Environmentalist and broadcaster Chris Packham has informed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of his intention to mount a legal challenge over recent policy rollbacks for the built environment and transport, labelling the decision “reckless and irresponsible”.

Chris Packham issues legal challenge to Prime Minister over net-zero rollbacks

Image: Chris Packham via X

The broadcaster announced on social media on Wednesday (4 October) that he was mounting a legal challenge over the Prime Minster’s recent net-zero policy announcements.

Sunak recently confirmed a five-year delay on the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. This was set for 2030 under Boris Johnson but will now be amended to 2035. This is aligned with the dates in the EU and many US states. Additionally, Sunak moved a ban on oil boilers in off-grid homes, initially set for 2026, to 2035. A wider plan to phase out 100% of domestic gas boilers by 2035 has also been weakened to 80%.

Since Sunak gave his speech, the Government has additionally delayed the implementation of biodiversity net-gain requirements on housing developers and has given the green light to the North Sea’s biggest undeveloped oil and gas field, Rosebank.

In response, Packham accused the Prime Minister of “playing populist politics with the future of life on Earth”.

“Even before this spontaneous, ill-judged and – we contend – unlawful announcement, the UK Government’s plans to meet its legal net-zero commitments were shambolic and destined to failure,” Packham said.

“Reneging on clear-cut, measurable and guaranteed means of reduction without offering real alternatives to balance the targets is reckless and irresponsible.”

Packham has given the Government two weeks to reply to his letter and reverse those policy decisions before the situation is escalated to the High Court.

Packham added that the decisions were made without informing Parliament of the UK’s climate watchdog, the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The latter is still formulating its response to the announcement, while groups of MPs have “expressed concern” about the decisions.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has since called for the Carbon Budget Delivery Plans to be revised in light of Sunak’s policy changes.

The Government’s Net-Zero Growth Plan was published earlier this year to build upon the unlawful Net-Zero Strategy. It featured a new Carbon Budget Delivery Plan. This sets out the projected cuts in emissions from green policy changes, and compares these levels of emissions reductions to those legally required by forthcoming carbon budgets.

Packham also argues that the recent policy decisions to delay timelines go against there Carbon Budget Delivery plans.

It is the latest policy climate policy framework to face legal action.

The High Court agreed in September to hear a joint challenge by green groups to the UK Government’s updated net-zero strategy. Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project argue that the updated strategy and Delivery Plans do not set out measures that would fully deliver the level of economy-wide decarbonisation committed to under the Climate Change Act.

Following a successful legal challenge to the previous iteration of the net-zero strategy, the three groups are stating that the updated strategy provides little in the way of progress. It still, they claim, lacks the sector-specific detail and level of incentives needed.

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) stated: “We are on track to deliver our net zero commitments set out in law, and are taking a fairer and more pragmatic approach to meeting them, easing the burden on hard-working businesses and families.

“Households will have more time and flexibility to make the transition, ensuring they can switch to electric vehicles when it suits them, and easing the boiler phase out will save some families thousands of pounds at a time when the cost of living is high.”

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