Allister Heath in the Telegraph is full of praise for Sunak’s watering down of the U.K.’s Net Zero measures. But the terrible truth is, he says, that even these mild changes may be unlawful – the PM needs to change the law.
The central problem is Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband’s subversive 2008 Climate Change Act. The original idea – a legally binding, 60% net reduction in emissions compared with 1990 levels by 2050 – was hardened to 80% during the process. In 2019, during the dying days of her calamitous premiership, Theresa May increased the legally binding reduction to 100% by 2050.
Supporters of the Act knew what they were doing: its legal-technocratic infrastructure was deliberately structured to prevent the sort of rearguard, common sense action now being advocated by Sunak. There isn’t just a 2050 deadline, but also five-year rolling carbon reduction targets that must be met by law. These “carbon budgets” must be agreed 12 years’ ahead of time, and accompanied by credible policies – although, scandalously, as the PM noted yesterday, they are not properly debated by MPs.
The Act created an extremely powerful quango, the Climate Change Committee, to “advise” the Government on where to set the budgets, and how exactly various sectors are squeezed to ensure they are met. The politicians have some room for manoeuvre, but not much.
The terrible truth is that Sunak is probably overstepping the mark. He has pressed the nuclear button: he has rejected the CCC’s advice and potentially torn up the fifth (2028-32) and sixth carbon budgets (2033-37). The latter was enshrined into law by Johnson in 2021. Sunak’s courage in defying this madness is remarkable, but he must now act strategically if he is to avoid being annihilated.
Green activists, corporate subsidy junkies and the rest are crying blue murder. They will claim – perhaps rightly, given the inane legislation – that the Government’s policies are unlawful. They will rush to their lawyers. The Left is already planning a raft of judicial reviews to prevent any airport expansion: the CCC has called for a temporary halt, and, longer-term, will surely demand that any increase in airport capacity (such as at Heathrow) be met by a reduction somewhere else (for example, by shutting Manchester Airport). This battle is a harbinger of things to come: the courts may well rule that the delay to phasing out the combustion engine is unlawful.
If Sunak wants to win, he will need to change the law – carbon budgets may need amending, requiring a Parliamentary vote. He may even need to amend the Climate Change Act itself. He will need to whip his MPs: he should learn from the Brexit battles of 2019, when Remainers who defied Johnson were thrown out of the party. If that fails, he will need to include a pledge to legislate for his relaxed deadlines in his 2024 manifesto.
Worth reading in full.