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England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions >> Plan B Earth & Ors, R. (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Business, Energy And Industrial Strategy  EWHC 1892 (Admin) (20 July 2018)
Cite as:  EWHC 1892 (Admin),  Env LR 13
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QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| (1) PLAN B EARTH
(2) CARMEN THERESE CALLIL
(3) JEFFREY BERNARD NEWMAN
(4) JO-ANNE PATRICIA VELTMAN
(5) LILY MEYNELL JOHNSON
(6) MAYA YASMIN CAMPBELL
(7) MAYA DOOLUB
(8) PARIS ORA PALMANO
(9) ROSE NAKANDI
(10) SEBASTIEN JAMES KAYE
(11) WILLIAM RICHARD HARE
(12) MB (A Child) BY HIS MOTHER & LITIGATION FRIEND, DB
|- and -
|SECRETARY OF STATE FOR BUSINESS, ENERGY AND INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY
|- and -
|THE COMMITTEE ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Robert Palmer (instructed by Government Legal Dept.) for the Defendant
Richard Gordon QC (instructed by Climate Change Committee) for the Interested Party
Hearing date: 4 July 2018
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Supperstone :
"The power in sub-section (1)(a) may only be exercised—
(a) if it appears to the Secretary of State that there have been significant developments in—
(i) scientific knowledge about climate change, or
(ii) European or international law or policy,
that make it appropriate to do so."
"The Parties to this Agreement,
In pursuit of the objective of the Convention, and being guided by its principles, including the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances,
Have agreed as follows
1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by
(a) 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 limits, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
As nationally determined contributions to the global response to climate change, all Parties are to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts as defined in Articles 4, [and others] with the view to achieving the purposes of this Agreement as set out in Article 2. The efforts of all Parties will represent a progression over time, while recognising the need to support developing country Parties for the effective implementation of this Agreement.
1. In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognising that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties…
2. Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.
3. Each Party's successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party's then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances."
"The Rt. Hon. Nick Hurd MP, who was at the time the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, accepted the recommendation in the 2016 Report that the Government should not amend its targets in response to the Paris Agreement at that time, and that the Government's efforts should be focussed on delivering action on the policies and proposals for meeting existing targets. However, he was clear that both the Government and the Committee should keep the long-term ambition under review in the light of the evidence."
"The essential point is that both the Committee and the Secretary of State agree that as at October 2016, the position was that the 2050 Target did not need to be amended at that time because it was not incompatible with the Paris Agreement – but that the level of the UK's ambition should be revisited when appropriate opportunities arise."
"It was clear that the aims of the Paris Agreement, to limit warming to well-below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, went further than the basis of the UK's current long-term target to reduce emissions in 2050 by at least 80% on 1990 levels (which was based on a UK contribution to global emissions reductions keeping global average temperature rise to around 2°C).
The Committee therefore agreed that whilst a new long-term target would be needed to be consistent with Paris, and setting such a target now would provide a useful signal of support, the evidence was not sufficient to specify that target now."
"Do not set new UK emissions targets now. The UK already has stretching targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving them will be a positive contribution to global climate action. In line with the Paris Agreement, the Government has indicated it intends at some point to set a UK target for reducing domestic net emissions to net zero. We have concluded it is too early to do so now, but setting such a target should be kept under review. The five-yearly cycle of pledges and reviews created by the Paris Agreement provides regular opportunities to consider increasing UK ambition.
Vigorously pursue the measures required to deliver on existing UK commitments and maintain flexibility to go further. The most important contribution the Government can make now to the Paris Agreement is publishing a robust plan to meet the UK carbon budgets and delivering policies in line with the plan. Meeting the carbon budgets will require economy-wide improvements to efficiency, decarbonisation of electricity and scaling up on markets for zero-emission vehicles and heating. Current policies, at best, will deliver about half the required reduction in emissions. Acting with urgency to close this policy gap would reduce long-term costs and keep open options for the future. If all measures deliver fully and emissions are reduced further, this would help support the aim in the Paris Agreement of pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
We agree with the Government's intention to set a new target in future that reflects the global need to reach net zero emissions. However, to be credible it needs to be evidence-based, accompanied by strong policies to deliver existing targets and a strategy to develop greenhouse gas removals.
1. UK and international ambition
The Agreement describes a higher level of global ambition that the one that formed the basis of the UK's existing emissions reduction targets:
- The UK's current long-term target is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by the year 2050, relative to 1990 levels. This 2050 target was derived as a contribution to a global emission path aimed at keeping global average temperature to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
- The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. To achieve this aim, the Agreement additionally sets a target for net zero global emissions in the second half of this century.
We welcome the Government's commitment to ratifying the Paris Agreement by the end of the year. The clear intention of the Agreement is that effort should increase over time. While relatively ambitious, the UK's current emissions targets are not aimed at limiting global temperature to as low a level as in the Agreement, nor do they stretch as far into the future.
2. Net zero emissions
Global temperature rise is a function largely of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions over time, meaning carbon dioxide emissions will need to fall to net zero in order to stabilise temperature. Some other greenhouse gas emissions may not need to fall to zero but will require very deep reductions in order to reach the temperature aims in the Paris Agreement…
- Emissions pathways indicate that CO2 emissions will need to reach net zero by the 2050s-70s, along with deep reductions of all other greenhouse gases, in order to stay below 2°C. To stay close to 1.5°C CO2 emissions would need to reach net zero by the 2040s.
We currently have no scenarios for how the UK can achieve net zero domestic emissions. …
- The UK's 2050 target to reduce emissions at least 80% from 1990 (i.e. to around 160 MtCO2e per year) is challenging but can be met in various ways using currently known technologies. …
4. Implications for UK policy priorities in the nearer term
Current policy in the UK is not enough to deliver the existing carbon budgets that Parliament has set. The Committee's assessment in our 2016 progress report was that current policies would at best deliver around half of the emissions reductions required to 2030, with no current policies to address the other half. This carbon policy gap must be closed to meet the existing carbon budgets, and to prepare for the 2050 target and net zero emissions in the longer term.
The existing carbon budgets are designed to prepare for the UK's 2050 target in the lowest cost way as a contribution to a global path aimed at keeping global average temperature to around 2°C. Global paths to keep close to 1.5°C at the upper end of the ambition in the Paris Agreement, imply UK reductions of at least 90% below 1990 levels by 2050 and potentially more ambitious efforts over the timescale of existing carbon budgets.
However, we recommend the Government does not alter the level of existing carbon budgets or the 2050 target now. They are already stretching and relatively ambitious compared to pledges from other countries. Meeting them cost-effectively will require deployment to begin at scale by 2030 for some key measures that enable net zero emissions (e.g. carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles, low-carbon heat). In theory these measures could allow deeper reductions by 2050 (on the order of 90% below 1990 levels) if action were ramped up quickly.
The priority for now should be robust near-term action to close the gap to existing targets and open up options to reach net zero emissions:
- The Government should publish a robust plan of measures to meet the legislated UK carbon budgets, and deliver policies in line with the plan.
- If all measures deliver fully and emissions are reduced further, this would help support the aim in the Paris Agreement of pursuing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
- The Government should additionally develop strategies for greenhouse gas removal technologies and reducing emissions from the hardest-to-treat sectors (aviation, agriculture and parts of industry).
There will be several opportunities to revisit the UK's targets in future as low-carbon technologies and options for greenhouse gas removals are developed, and as more is learnt about ambition in other countries and potential global paths to well below 2°C and 1.5°C: …"
"1. The UK 2050 emissions target and associated warming
The UK 2050 target is potentially consistent with a wide range of global temperature outcomes:
- Temperature depends principally on cumulative emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) over time. Hence nearer-term reductions below the assumed global emissions path will lower warming, as would deeper reductions after 2050.
- Warming depends on global greenhouse gas emissions, and the UK currently contributes around 1% of the global total per year. Other nations may not reach the same level of emissions per person in 2050. To the extent their emissions are different, total global emissions, and hence warming, will be different.
The IPCC suggests a lower temperature could be achieved for the level of global emissions we assumed in 2050. This relies on the option of reaching net negative global CO2 emissions after 2050, which was not included in our scenarios. We do not yet know if such cuts will be feasible.
- The most recent IPCC assessment, drawing on a wider range of more detailed evidence than our 2008 report, concluded that paths consistent with at least a 66% chance of staying below 2°C would have global emissions in 2050 of 15-29 CtCO2e. Hence the global level of 20-24 billion tonnes underpinning the UK 2050 target could be consistent with a lower central estimate of temperature than we assumed (i.e. below 2°C).
In summary, the UK 2050 target was set to align to around a 50% likelihood of limiting temperature increase to 2°C, but could be consistent with around a 66% likelihood. This higher probability depends on other countries following a similar level of ambition to 2050 (e.g. to reach 2.1-2.6 tCO2e per person) and large emissions removals beyond 2050.
3. The Paris Agreement
- The overarching aim of the Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. There has been relatively little work to date to quantify climate impacts at 1.5°C. Overall, they are expected to be lower than at 2°C, but still substantial in places…
In order to assess global emissions paths, we interpret the temperature aims in the Paris Agreement to range from (at minimum) a 66% likelihood of staying below 2°C, to (at maximum) a 50% likelihood of staying below 1.5°C:
- Previous international statements referred to the aim of staying below 2°C, without stating explicitly what likelihood of exceeding 2°C is acceptable.
- In practice, many studies have taken this to mean at least a 66% likelihood of staying below 2°C, given the spread in uncertainty in how the climate system responds to emissions. Others have also considered at least a 50% likelihood, closer to the original logic underpinning the UK 2050 target.
- A similar judgment will be required about the likelihood consistent with the Parties Agreement of staying 'well below 2°C'. Given the interpretation of 'below 2°C', it is hard to see this meaning less than a 66% likelihood of 2°C.
- Pathways with a 66% likelihood of staying below 2°C have a 50% likelihood of staying below 1.8°C and a roughly 20% likelihood of staying below 1.5°C, based on current estimates of the range of climate-system uncertainty. Conversely, pathways with a 50% likelihood of staying below 1.5°C have about an 80% likelihood of staying below 2°C.
Current pledges of action to 2030 do not together add up to a credible pathway to achieve either 2°C or more ambitious temperature aims. Recognising this, the Paris Agreement creates a 'ratchet' mechanism designed to encourage greater action over time:
- The parties did not specify an emissions level consistent with 1.5°C. Instead they asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide information on pathways consistent with 1.5°C in a Special Report due in 2018.
- The Agreement sets a five-yearly 'ratchet' system to review pledges, starting in 2023, with the intention that their ambition will rise over time in a nationally-determined manner. Ahead of this, nations agreed to a 'facilitative dialogue' in 2018 to take stock of the current pledges."
"2. The difference in global action between 1.5°C and 2°C
- Scenarios to reach either 2°C or 1.5°C require increased efforts to 2030. This was recognised by the parties to the Paris Agreement, who identified the need to reduce emissions to 40 GtCO2e/yr in 2030, rather than the expected level from existing pledges of 56 GtCO2e/yr. Emissions would need to continue falling after 2030, with a 1.5°C goal implying much faster rates of reduction….
- Some experts already state that 2°C is no longer feasible in reality because model scenarios are too optimistic about global co-operation and technology availability.
We therefore consider the goal of pursuing efforts to 1.5°C as implying a desire to strengthen and potentially to overachieve on efforts toward 2°C. …
In summary, currently available information indicates a range of timescales by which the UK should aim for zero net emissions, depending on the range of global paths implied by Paris ambition and the method of judging a fair UK contribution. On the logic underpinning the existing 2050 target, net UK CO2 emissions should be zero by 2045-65 and net greenhouse gas emissions should be zero by 2060-90."
"3. Considering raising the ambition of the UK's existing targets
We have considered whether the UK should commit now to increased efforts by revising the targets in the Climate Change Act (i.e. the 2050 target to reduce emissions at least 80% below 1990 levels and the carbon budgets, which require a 57% reduction by 2030). Our conclusion is that these targets are already stretching and should not be tightened now, but should be kept under review…
However, we note that there is scope to outperform the UK's existing targets:
- The UK's 2050 target is for a reduction of at least 80% relative to 1990. Similarly carbon budgets prescribe the maximum level of emissions, but do not preclude deeper reductions.
- Emissions accounting for purchase of international credits to count towards UK carbon budgets.
The UK played an important role in reaching the Paris Agreement, and should continue its support and co-ordination of action with other nations. Enhancing this support and co-ordination could contribute to meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement alongside a full delivery of the UK's domestic commitments to reduce emissions.
4. Future decision points for reviewing UK targets
Notably in this Parliament, an international 'facilitative dialogue' will occur in 2018 in order to take stock of the collective effort and inform the next round of emissions pledges. Each party to the UN negotiations will also need to communicate a revised pledge, as well as a mid-century low greenhouse-gas development plan by 2020. This will be an important indicator of collective long-term ambition for domestic emissions.
We will revisit our conclusions on a net zero target for the UK, and the possibility of tightening existing targets, as and when these events or any others give rise to significant developments."