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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Treaty obligations catch up with UK Government

There was a time when UK Prime Ministers could go along to summits, sign the joint declaration and then spend the rest of their tenure paying lip service to the obligations they had taken upon themselves on behalf of the country. Those halycon days appear to be behind us, and thank goodness for that.

As the Guardian reports, the turning point appears to have been the Heathrow case earlier this year, in which the government’s go-ahead for a third runway was deemed unlawful by judges as it failed to take into account the UK’s obligations under the 2015 Paris agreement. Campaigners are now arguing that this ruling sets a precedent that forces ministers to assess the impact of their Covid-19 stimulus plans on the climate crisis.

On Tuesday, a letter threatening court action was sent to the prime minister and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, by the pressure group Plan B, which successfully pursued the Heathrow case. They are arguing that Boris Johnson’s much-vaunted green recovery plans are inadequate and “clearly unlawful” as they do not match up to the government’s legal obligations under the Paris climate agreement and the UK’s own net zero emissions target.

Sunak will set out £3bn of green spending, focusing on improving energy efficiency in homes and public buildings, in his summer statement today, but the letter contrasts this sum with the billions committed to airlines and carmakers in the taxpayer-funded coronavirus recovery package, and funding for fossil fuels'

If there is no response by 17 July, the campaigners will take the next step, which is to send a “pre-action protocol letter”, which would oblige the government to respond within 21 days.

The paper says that legal action is also threatened against the Bank of England, alleging that the governor, Andrew Bailey, appeared to have changed his mind on how to combine responses to the Covid-19 crisis and the climate emergency:

In a statement on 1 July he said: “The Bank’s lending to companies as part of the emergency response to Covid-19 has not incorporated a test based on climate considerations. That was deliberate, because in such a grave emergency affecting this country we have focused on the immediate priority of supporting jobs and livelihoods.”

Plan B said this showed he had been overruled by ministers. Tim Crosland, its director, said: “It feels like his judgment has been overridden. Corporate lobbyists are getting the better of the scientific and economic advice. This is a disaster.”

Politicians being forced to match their words with actions? These court cases will be worth following.
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