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Chris Packham legal action over Rishi Sunak's announcement

Chris Packham legal action over Rishi Sunak's announcement


Chris Packham legal challenge to Prime Minister over axing of timetable on vehicles and boilers

Naturalist and environmental campaigner Chris Packham CBE is set to legally challenge Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to tear up the Government’s timetable to phase out motor vehicles and gas boilers to keep the UK on track to meet Net Zero by 2050.

The TV presenter has sent the PM a legal letter that signals the start of the judicial review process, meaning if Mr Sunak does not about-turn on delays to the implementation of the policies announced last month, Mr Packham will apply to the High Court to challenge the change of plan.

In his legal letter, sent on his behalf by environment lawyers at law firm Leigh Day, Mr Packham says the timeline in place to help the UK meet Net Zero cannot be changed at will by the PM because he does not have the legal right to make such a decision.

He says a carefully structured statutory framework surrounds the implementation of key policies set down in the Government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP).

The CBDP was put before Parliament in March 2023, as required by the Climate Change Act 2008, following the setting of the UK’s sixth carbon budget in June 2021 and after a successful judicial review brought by Friends of the Earth and others resulted in the High Court declaring that the earlier version was unlawful. The budget outlined proposals and policies to help the UK meet its carbon budgets and explained that if those policies were delivered in full, the country would make all the carbon savings needed to meet carbon budgets four and five, and 97 per cent of the carbon savings needed to fulfil carbon budget six.

Mr Packham says the policies on vehicles and boilers were abandoned without any public consultation, without informing the Climate Change Committee and without informing Parliament.

Mr Sunak did not confirm the Government will still meet its sixth carbon budget, or how it intends to do so, as is required by sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act.

Any changes to carbon budgets have to be made according to a process laid down in Section six of the Climate Change Act.

Mr Sunak’s assertion that the carbon budgets and the CBDP “impose unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families. . . . that no-one was ever told about” is wrong. The financial impact of the measures was, as required by law, taken into account when the sixth carbon budget was set.

When Mr Sunak said “the last Carbon Budget process was … voted through with barely any consideration given the hard choices needed to fulfil it”, he ignores that when he was Chancellor the Treasury was part of the statutory process for the setting of the sixth carbon budget.

The Climate Change Act places a clear obligation on the Government to prepare proposals and policies to enable carbon budgets to be met.

The letter to Mr Sunak was sent last week. He has 14 days to reply, or reverse his decision on changing the policies on vehicles and boilers, before Mr Packham will turn to the High Court.

Chris Packham said: “Even before this spontaneous , ill judged and we contend, unlawful announcement, the UK Government’s plans to meet its legal Net Zero commitments were shambolic and destined to failure. Its own Climate Change Committee’s last report said that continued delays in policy development and implementation meant reaching those targets was ‘increasingly challenging’. It also highlighted a ‘lack of urgency’ across government, a ‘worrying hesitancy’ and lack of political leadership on the climate issue. Reneging on clear-cut measurable and guaranteed means of reduction without offering real alternatives to balance the targets is reckless and irresponsible. And claiming this is about protecting the poorest in society . . . it’s worth noting that when the policies were enshrined in law they were signed off by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And that was Mr Sunak. 

“The Prime Minister is playing populist politics with the future of life on Earth. Immoral, unethical and, we believe, illegal.” 

Chris Packham CBE is represented by solicitors Carol Day and Julia Eriksen at Leigh Day.

Carol Day said: “Only in June 2023, the Climate Change Committee identified the 2030 phase-out of new conventional car and van sales and the ban on the phasing out of new and replacement gas boilers by 2035 as vital steps to meeting the UK’s decarbonisation pathway by 2050.”

The PAP letter sets out the reasoning as to why the announcement to abandon or delay the implementation of these two key policies is unlawful. Day continued: 

“Our client believes the Prime Minister’s announcement is unlawful for many reasons. These include the failure to consult the public and industry (having consulted on both policies prior to their introduction) and a reliance on statements that are simply incorrect, exposing a misunderstanding of the statutory processes set down in the Climate Change Act and a total lack of evidence to substantiate those claims. Moreover, the letter argues that the PM has also failed to provide alternative replacement policies or proposals in order to meet carbon budgets as required in law.”