A nonprofit climate litigation organization in the UK is challenging the British government’s COVID economic recovery plan on climate change grounds, taking the first step in the legal process by sending a formal notice to the government on July 21.
The organization Plan B sent the notice, called a Pre-Action Protocol letter, to several UK government officials including Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey and Chair of UK Export Finance Noël Harwerth. The Pre-Action Protocol follows an informal letter that Plan B sent on July 7, and requests the government officials explain how the UK economic recovery program complies with the government’s legal obligations to act on the climate crisis. Plan B says it intends to file a lawsuit in the Administrative Court if the government does not provide an “adequate response” by August 4, 2020.
According to Plan B’s July 21 letter, this expected litigation seeks a court order declaring that the UK government’s recovery program “must be consistent with the Government’s obligations under Climate Change Act 2008, the Paris Agreement and the Human Rights Act 1998.” Plan B raises concerns that the current recovery plans include investment and lending to fossil fuel projects and other actions to further stimulate the carbon-based economy. The government “has now committed £1billion to financing a new natural gas project in Mozambique,” Plan B cites as an example. Plan B also notes that the Bank of England’s lending as part of the Covid-19 emergency response “has not incorporated a test based on climate considerations.”
The Bank’s lending in this regard appears contradictory to statements co-authored by Bank Governor Andrew Bailey on June 5: “To address climate breakdown, we can instead take decisions now that reduce emissions in a less disruptive manner…This will only happen if financial decisions, including those made by businesses, investors, banks and governments, take the climate crisis into account.”
One question Plan B asks in its Pre-Action Protocol letter is if the Prime Minister or the Chancellor influenced the Bank’s more recent position to not include a climate test in its economic recovery lending decisions.
According to Plan B, the UK government “is disregarding both the expert advice and the law” and is “instead using the Recovery Programme to double-down on the carbon economy, unlawfully locking us into a trajectory towards disaster.”
In June this year the government’s Committee on Climate Change warned that the UK is not on track to meet its climate commitments and said the government should consider preparing for warming of 4°C, which is more than double the limit that nearly all countries in the world agreed to in adopting the Paris Climate Agreement.
Plan B previously won a court ruling against the UK government’s plans to expand Heathrow Airport, with the ruling based on the government’s failure to take proper account of the Paris Agreement.
In terms of the COVID economic recovery, Plan B Director Tim Crosland said the UK has a clear choice.
“The Government can either follow the scientific and economic advice and take a decisive step towards a cleaner, fairer and more sustainable economy, creating a vast number of new jobs; or it can ignore that advice by prioritising its corporate sponsors and locking us into the path to climate breakdown and a future that is grim beyond words,” Crosland said.