Grant Shapps faces increasing ‘legal risk’ over net zero target, reports say

Energy secretary Grant Shapps is facing an increasing ‘legal risk’ over a lack of progress on reaching the government’s legal obligation to produce a new net zero report to parliament this month, according to highly sensitive documents leaked to the Observer.

Grant Shapps. Source: Government

The government’s net zero strategy was found to be unlawful under the Climate Change Act (CCA) last year after being challenged by campaigners.

It was acknowledged that quantitative estimates of the impact of the proposals and policies only counted for 95% of the carbon budget (net zero) being achieved, with the remaining 5% of reductions being met through a qualitative assessment of the impact of the policies.

The Court ordered the ‘secretary of state’ for the relevant department to lay a fresh report before Parliament no later than the end of March 2023. This responsibility now falls on Shapps who has been appointed secretary of state for the new department for energy security and net zero (DESNZ).

The secretary of state is held responsible under the CCA to ensure that proposals and policies are in place to meet the carbon budgets, and to report to Parliament on them “as soon as reasonably practicable”, so if this deadline isn’t met the liability will fall to them.

According to leaked briefings from senior officers reported by the Observer, which date back to 20 February this year, DEFRA officials state that their own department’s failure to develop policies for cutting carbon emissions “increases the legal risk on the DESNZ SoS (Shapps) if the reduced savings cannot be made across the economy, which DESNZ have indicated will not be possible”.

DEFRA is shown to be lagging 24% behind its official target, according to the report on the leaked documents, while the transport department has a gap “that is considerably over 5%”. The documents reportedly suggest part of the reason for the delay is environment secretary Thérèse Coffey’s reluctance to upset the farming sector, which would be most impacted by a DEFRA decarbonisation plan.

DEFRA officials reportedly say: “The CCC has been calling for DEFRA to publish a decarbonisation plan since 2018 … The CCC has also criticised the ‘glacial progress’ in reducing emissions from agriculture.”

Commenting on the leak, Sam Hunter Jones, a lawyer at environmental charity ClientEarth which was part of the legal action against the government’s net zero strategy, told ENDS: “This warning shows the importance of last year’s decision by the High Court for keeping the UK on track with its climate targets. 

“Without a properly enforced Climate Change Act, ministers would be free to promise pie in the sky, when what we need are concrete plans.”