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Government threatened with legal action over continued delays to emissions reduction plan

Activist legal group ClientEarth has threatened to pursue legal action against the government over its failure to publish its eagerly anticipated emissions reduction plan (ERP).

A letter addressed to climate change minister Nick Hurd, sent last week but published yesterday evening (11 April 2017), pushes the government to confirm a timeline for the ERP, explain how it will meet its requirement to publish the plan given the continual delays and confirm whether or not it plans to launch a public consultation once the plan is published.

Having set the fifth carbon budget in the middle of last year, the government was expected to publish a policy framework that would enable the country to meet its emissions targets within that budget.

The document was due to be published at the end of last year but has been continually pushed back. Ministers first alluded to its publication in February before Nick Hurd later suggested that it would be published before the end of March.

Most recently government officials have only said that it would be published as soon as possible, but reacted strongly when James Heappey, a Conservative MP who sat on the former DECC select committee, said publicly that he was of the understanding it could be pushed back until June.

The letter, signed by ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church and director of programmes Karla Hill, references these delays and the uncertainty that still surrounds the document’s publication.

“We are increasingly concerned that no plan has yet been published. We are also concerned at how the expected timeframe for publication has been incrementally pushed back

“Failure now to produce an ambitious plan that will put the UK on track to meet the legally binding fourth and fifth carbon budgets will only compound the earlier failures since the fourth carbon budget was set in 2011,” the letter reads.

ClientEarth has called on the government to respond to its letter within 21 days of receipt, suggesting that legal action could follow if it is ignored.

“Government is long overdue to bring forward an ambitious plan that will close the persistent and unlawful gap between legally binding carbon budgets and current plans and policies. An ambitious plan will drive investment and deliver the UK’s climate change commitments. The plan was due in 2016. Businesses need certainty, investors need to know where to put their money, and people need to be protected from climate change.”

“We want to work with the government on a strong, effective emissions reduction plan, but all we get is never-ending delays. Government must publish the plan, and must consult with industry and civil society. If it continues to kick this can down the road, we will have no option but to consider legal action,” James Thornton, chief executive at ClientEarth, said. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has subsequently responded to news of the letter, stating that the plan was a priority for the government and that it would be published as early as possible in 2017.

“We are undertaking critical preparatory work to ensure we get it right and provide clear guidance on how the Government is planning to reduce emissions through the 2020s," the government's statement said.