Climate Campaigners Launch Legal Challenge to ‘Catastrophic’ Government Recovery Package

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Boris Johnson

Climate activists are planning to take the government to court over its COVID-19 bailout package, as they urge the UK to face up to its responsibility to tackle climate change.

Plan B, a climate litigation charity, says Boris Johnson vowed his government would “build back greener” but is instead using billions of pounds of public money to prop up fossil fuel corporations without financing a transition to a clean and sustainable economy.

It claims the government is breaching the most basic responsibility of safeguarding the lives of its people by backing plans that would keep the world on track for 4C of warming. The UK and other countries have pledged to keep warming to at most 2C under the Paris Agreement.

This is a critical moment, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Plan B’s director Tim Crosland told DeSmog. “Either we lock into a completely disastrous trajectory or we can take a turn in a different direction.”

All the evidence at the moment is that Johnson and his government are just doubling down on business as usual, and that’s just a catastrophe for all of us.”


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Boris Johnson recently announced the government would “build back better” when unveiling his “Rooseveltian” recovery package on 30 June, which included £3 billion in green investment. But in the 18-page Pre-Action Protocol letter submitted yesterday, Plan B says the spending announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic fails to take into account the Climate Change Act, the Paris Agreement, the Human Rights Act and other legal commitments. 

Dwarfing the £3 billion green investment, Johnson has also pledged £27.4 billion towards a five-year road building programme, while the controversial HS2 project is estimated to cost at least £100 billion. The Bank of England’s emergency scheme was also described as “inconsistent” with Johnson’s pledge, a report on the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) found, with at least £1.8 billion handed out to airlines that have collectively announced up to 21,000 layoffs.

Fran Boait, Executive Director of not-for-profit advocacy group Positive Money, hopes the legal action will result in real structural change.

She told DeSmog: “Not only are the government and Bank of England's responses to the COVID crisis failing pledges to 'build back better', but they are also failing the government's legal climate obligations under the Paris Agreement.” 

Plan B's action to hold the government to account on this is extremely important, and hopefully it will result in climate conditions being applied to the billions of pounds of bailouts the Bank of England is offering.”

The legal action follows advice from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which urged the government to “seize the opportunity” presented by Covid-19 in concentrating investment in the climate. 

Ikechukwu Uzoma, an Aryeh Neier Fellow at the Open Society Justice Initiative, believes Plan B’s action is “necessary” for demanding accountability from the UK government on climate issues in line with the CCC’s advice. 

He added: “It is equally, and maybe more importantly, an essential initiative that should inspire similar action in other parts of the world. Just like the UK, governments around the world have implicitly abandoned their domestic and international climate obligations in their COVID-19 stimulus responses.”

Plan B's Crosland believes the government’s recovery plans could be an opportunity to dramatically change the UK’s climate trajectory.

We need a radical transformation of the economy, we don’t need a fig leaf, a few billion here,” he said. “It has to be intentional, it’s got to be ambitious, and it’s got to be the focus of the recovery. We’re a million miles away from that right now.”

The government has until 4 August to respond to the legal challenge, though it is able to request a short extension. The action is “highly likely” to end up in court, unless the government performs a rapid U-turn, the campaigners say. 

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has been approached for a comment.

Image credit: Number 10/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Updated 12/08/2020: A sentence referring to HS2 was edited.

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