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Support net zero target or face legal action, councils told


Andrew Forster
13 September 2019

ClientEarth has threatened  legal action against 100 English local authorities if they don’t put their areas on a credible path to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions through their Local Plans. 

The environmental law charity has written to each council developing a new Local Plan, giving them until 28 October to explain how they intend to respond to the national target of net zero by 2050 that was enshrined in law this summer. 

Announcing the action, Client-

Earth climate lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “There is a collective failure by local authorities across England to plan adequately for climate change. Too often climate change is perceived to be just a national or international issue and therefore solely the responsibility of central government. 

“Clearly central government needs to do more, as the recent Committee on Climate Change  progress reports stress. Yet so many of the daily decisions around new and existing infrastructure – such as new buildings, roads and utilities – are made at the local level. All of these decisions will ‘lock-in’ an area’s future emissions and its resilience to climate change.”

Hunter Jones said scientists were warning “that we have ten years to transform our economies and avoid catastrophic climate change”, an apparent reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on global warming of 1.5°C published last October.   

“But decisions that will have ramifications for decades are being made now by authorities with no idea if these decisions are consistent with national and international commitments to limit emissions,” he said.

The letter asks councils to outline “a credible path to achieving net zero emissions by setting robust carbon reduction targets and integrating them throughout your Local Plan”.

“Any plan that fails to demonstrate consistency with robust local targets will be unlawful and at risk of legal challenge,” it adds.

It says a growing number of councils have declared climate emergencies and local net zero targets, with cross-party support, and “consistent with law and policy, some authorities, such as Greater Manchester, have included their net zero targets in their emerging plans”.

“It is only by setting local carbon reduction targets by reference to wider national and international targets – and demonstrating proposed policies’ consistency with local targets – that it is possible to establish and track an area’s contribution to the mitigation of climate change.”

Councils must:

  • set a local carbon target framework based on a comprehensive assessment of local carbon reduction potential, taking into account national and international climate targets
  • demonstrate proposed planning policies’ consistency with this local target framework
  • monitor performance on at least an annual basis

“In developing our future engagement strategy on this issue – including possible litigation – we intend to take into account all responses received,” says Client-

Earth. “We are open to requests for guidance at any time and hope to be able to support you in taking action in a way that complies with your legal duties and benefits your communities.”

The letter has been sent to the following councils: Ashfield; Babergh; Barnet; Bassetlaw; Bexley; Blaby; Bournemouth; Bradford; Brent; Bristol; Broadland; Cambridge; Cannock Chase; Charnwood; Cheshire East; Chichester; Chiltern; Chorley; Copeland; Corby; Crawley; Dacorum; Dartford; Doncaster; Dorset; Dover; Dudley; East Hampshire; East Northamptonshire; East Riding of Yorkshire; Elmbridge; Enfield; Epsom and Ewell; Erewash; Fareham; Gosport; Great Yarmouth; Greater Manchester Combined Authority; Hambleton; Hastings; Herefordshire; Hertsmere; Hinckley and Bosworth; Horsham; Hyndburn; Islington; Kings Lynn & West Norfolk; Kingston Upon Thames; Lambeth; Lancaster; Leicester; Lewes; Lewisham; Lichfield; Liverpool City Region; Malvern Hills; Merton; Mid Suffolk; Mole Valley; Newcastle under Lyme; North Lincolnshire; North Norfolk; Norwich; Portsmouth; Preston; Rochford; Sand-

well;Sheffield; Shropshire; Slough; Solihull; Somerset West and Taunton; South Buckinghamshire; South Cambridgeshire; South Norfolk;  South Ribble; South Somerset; South Tyneside; Southampton; Southend-on-Sea; Spelthorne; Stafford; Stoke on Trent; Stroud; Surrey Heath; Swindon; Teignbridge; Test Valley; Three Rivers; Thurrock; Tunbridge Wells; Wakefield; Walsall; Waltham Forest; Wandsworth; Watford; West Lancashire; Wiltshire; Winchester; Wirral; Wokingham; Wolverhampton; 

Worcester; Worthing; and Wychavon.

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