As wildfires spark across Europe, temperatures and awareness of the climate crisis are both at an all-time high. Meanwhile, courts around the world are dealing with a record number of climate-related lawsuits against governments.

In an important judgment, coinciding with Britain’s hottest day on record, the UK High Court has ruled that the British government’s Net Zero Strategy breaches its obligations under the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, our own High Court is expected to rule shortly on a challenge to the Climate Commission’s emissions reduction plan for the Government.

The UK judgment: the government must show how it will meet its climate obligations

At the heart of the case was the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy, which sets out the government’s policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the net zero target by 2050.

The claimants, a group of NGOs, challenged the legality of the Strategy by way of judicial review, alleging that the Secretary of State had approved it without having enough information about how carbon budgets would be reached. The Court upheld the challenge, finding also that the Secretary had failed to provide a report containing explanations about how his policies would enable carbon budgets to be met. 

The lawyers for the claimants have hailed the judgment as a victory for transparency and accountability in terms of government action to address climate change.

The New Zealand claim: does the Climate Commission’s emissions plan go far enough?

In February this year, our own High Court heard a challenge by Lawyers for Climate Action New Zealand (LCANZI) to the Climate Commission’s advice to the Government on emissions reduction. LCANZI claims that the Commission’s calculations contain errors and that that its plan is insufficient to meet the targets required.  The High Court’s judgment is pending and is expected to be delivered soon. It remains to be seen whether our judiciary will find, as the UK court did, that more needs to be done by the Government to meet its climate change obligations.

Why do these cases matter?

While the factual basis for the UK and New Zealand cases is different, they both involve judicial review of decisions relevant to governmental strategy on climate change. The judicial review process is one of the most widely used tools in climate change litigation as claimants increasingly seek to hold governments to account in relation to their plans to meet emission reductions targets. We expect actions of these kinds to continue to grow in line with public concern about the effects of the climate crisis.


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