Activists are preparing to take the Government to court over its “out of tune” planning policy in a challenge inspired by the watershed Heathrow ruling.
Three claimants – Guardian journalist George Monbiot, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince and Jolyon Maugham’s The Good Law project – argue nine-year-old energy infrastructure guidance contradicts the UK’s current net zero commitments.
The coalition has already crowdfunded half of the £100,000 needed for a judicial review – which they will go ahead with if they receive no written response from the Secretary of State.
Their action comes days after a momentous ruling at the Courts of Appeal, when judges ruled Heathrow Airport extension plans illegal because they failed to take into account commitments under the landmark Paris Agreement.
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“From an environmentalists’ point of view this is really exciting,” Dale Vince told DeSmog UK.
“This isn’t just about planning policy, it’s a mindset problem. Fossil fuels have underpinned the economy since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
“What we’re asking for is a complete upheaval of the business-as-usual mentality, and although politicians say they get it, what we can see is that they’re reluctant to take the challenging and fundamental steps needed.”
The landmark Heathrow ruling showed courts could find fault with National Policy Statements (NPS) because of their failure to comply with climate change commitments – a precedent the claimants hope to follow.
The equivalent plans for energy developments were last updated in 2011 – five years before the UK committed to the Paris Agreement, which calls for a peak warming of “well below” 2°C from pre-industrial temperatures or 1.5°C. The policies also predate the government’s pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, updated last year.
According to documents by the now defunct Department of Energy & Climate Change (now part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the plans set out the Government’s policy for delivery of major energy infrastructure on everything from gas and oil pipelines, renewable energy infrastructure and nuclear power generation.
But without a review of that policy, claimants believe fossil-fuel projects – such as the Drax gas-fired conversion on North Yorkshire approved in October last year – will continue to get backing without due consideration for the climate.
In a press statement, Monbiot said: “We need to stop commissioning new fossil fuel-powered energy infrastructure.
“The UK government’s policies are out of date, and out of tune with the need to defend a habitable planet. They threaten the wellbeing of humanity and the rest of life on Earth. I hope our action leads to a radical shift in policy.”
Vince believes that public pressure – such as that seen in the years running up to last week’s Heathrow decision – can exert huge influence on politicians.
“I don’t think governments lead, I think they follow,” he said. “I think they produce policies and opinions that they think will be popular and they get their signals from the media and from protests.”
“Politicians try and pick up on what the public want and then position themselves as the champion of that. The rise of environmental commitment, I think that’s triggered at least as much by the public as by climate change itself.”
The 58-year-old is confident that the judicial review will go ahead, describing it as “an exciting prospect and opportunity”.
But he acknowledged that the greatest challenge will be to get the new policy to reflect what needs to be done in the energy sector.
“It’s a classic thing for politicians to sign up to stuff, to make promises and then not deliver on them, and that’s what’s happened in this case,” Vince said. “What they haven’t done is change policies to keep up with our climate change commitments.”
“It’s great if we can effect policy change to deliver on the promises of the politicians.”
BEIS has been approached for a comment.
Main image © Roger Kidd, Creative Commons License.