Local Marrams Resident, supported by Save Hemsby Coastline, joins Friends of the Earth to legally challenge climate adaptation plans

Hemsby has been abandoned to the North Sea. Despite more than a decade of work by local people , and despite having planning permission in place for a rock berm we have been told we don’t qualify for help. We will not get any sea defences, unless we get the criteria used to calculate funding changed. To do that will mean legal action.

The journey to court...

Friends of the Earth legal challenge Government’s inadequate climate protection plan to be examined by High Court

'Inadequate’ climate protection plan to be examined by High Court

People whose lives are severely impacted by climate crisis take action over National Adaptation Programme

A High Court judge has ordered a judicial review of the government’s plan for protecting people, property and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change following a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and two people whose lives are already severely impacted by the climate crisis [2]. Friends of the Earth maintains that it is not fit for purpose and must be improved.

The two-day ‘rolled up’ [3] hearing into the National Adaptation Plan will take place on 18-19 June.

Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a claim by a group of older Swiss women, who argued that the lack of action on climate change had violated their human rights. The ECHR case has some similarities to Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge, not least because our case also deals with deficient state action on climate and its adverse impact on health and human rights [4].

Last month the Climate Change Committee heavily criticised the government’s latest NAP, warning it “falls far short of what is required” [5].

The legal challenge is being made by Friends of the Earth and two co-claimants:

Local campaigner Kevin Jordan [6] was made homeless shortly before Christmas 2023 [3], after his house in Hemsby, Norfolk was demolished after coastal erosion put it in severe danger of falling into the sea.

Disability activist Doug Paulley [7] has a number of health conditions which are being exacerbated by searing summer temperatures, causing not just great distress and discomfort, but also putting him at increased risk of serious harm.

In making his order for a hearing the judge, Mr Justice Sheldon, said “the issues raised by the Claimants are of considerable public importance”.

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Alison Dilworth, said:

“We’re delighted the High Court has agreed to hear this crucial legal challenge.

“The government’s adaptation programme – which should be a plan to protect us all from the accelerating impacts of the climate crisis – is completely inadequate and puts people’s lives at risk.

“We know the most marginalised communities, including disabled people, are most at risk and largely excluded from planning and preparedness work.

“We hope our legal challenge will lead to a robust new plan that helps safeguard people, property and infrastructure from the consequences of a rapidly warming planet.”

Kevin Jordan, said:

“This country is completely under-prepared for the impacts of climate change, and the threat it poses to the homes, lives and livelihoods of thousands of people across the country.

“When I bought my house 14 years ago, I was told it would be safe for about another 100 years. It wasn’t.

“I may have lost my home to climate change, but the fight goes on.

“I hope this legal challenge forces the government to draw up a more ambitious and effective climate adaptation plans that better protect us all.”

Doug Paulley, said:

“Climate change is a major threat to us all, but the government must also recognise that disabled communities are disproportionately affected and often have additional support needs when a crisis hits.

“Many people like me who lived in a care home during the Covid pandemic will have experienced the fear and helplessness of feeling abandoned in a crisis. We mustn’t let this happen with climate change.

“I’m delighted the High Court will hear our legal challenge. The government’s climate adaption plan must be revised to better protect everyone, especially those in the most vulnerable situations, from the impacts of the growing climate crisis.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“Our clients have joined forces to bring this legal claim, because the adverse impacts of climate change are being felt right now, yet they believe the Government’s plans to deal with those impacts are woefully inadequate. We welcome the Climate Change Committee’s report, and are very pleased that the Court has now ordered a hearing.

“Our clients believe that the Government’s adaptation programme leaves the UK unprepared to meet the environmental challenges it is already facing as a result of climate change, in breach of clear legal requirements under both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Climate Change Act 2008.”

The climate crisis is a growing threat to peoples’ lives and homes:

Coastal erosion

Approximately 1,800 kilometres (40%) of England’s coastline and 8,900 properties are at risk from erosion if coastal defences are not considered [8].

Sea level rise of half to one metre could lead to 200km or more of coastal defences becoming particularly vulnerable to failure in some conditions and may not be cost-effective to maintain in the future. This is around 4% of the English coastline and 20% of the coastline with coastal defences [8]. More than a thousand homes on part of Norfolk's coast could be lost to erosion within the next 80 years [9].


Approximately 1.9 million people across the UK currently living in areas at significant risk from either river, coastal or surface water flooding. The number of people at risk could double as early as the 2050s [10].


In 2022 an estimated 4,507 deaths were associated with the hottest days in England [11].

In the UK, it is estimated that up to 90% of hospital wards are at risk of overheating during hot weather [12].


Notes :

  1. The government’s Third National Adaptation Plan was published in 2023: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/third-national-adaptation-programme-nap3 
  2. Government faces legal challenge over failure to protect frontline communities | Friends of the Earth press release [1 November 2023]: 
  3. In a ‘rolled up’ hearing the question of permission is often heard in tandem with the substantive case itself. In practice this is effectively the same as a trial, in that the court is expected to allow the claimant to argue its case in full and issue a judgment.  
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-68768598  One of the grounds in Friends of the Earth’s case is that the human rights of the two co-claimants have been violated due to a deficient national adaptation plan. The human rights (articles 2 and 8) in the ECHR case are the same in our case too (albeit in an adaptation context and not a mitigation context).  
  5. Planning for climate impacts falls short once again | CCC press release: https://www.theccc.org.uk/2024/03/13/planning-for-climate-impacts-falls-short-once-again/ 
  6. Kevin Jordan, who is a member of the Save Hemsby Coastline campaign, lost his home shortly before Christmas 2023. Mr Jordan wrote an article for the Metro newspaper on his experience: “I was told my £130,000 house would stand for 100 years – it’s days away from falling off a cliff”: https://metro.co.uk/2023/12/08/130k-house-falling-off-a-cliff-edge-homeless-days-19947077/  
  7. Doug Paulley, lives in a care home in Wetherby in Yorkshire and has a number of long-term conditions that make him particularly susceptible to overheating. These include an impairment that affects the nervous system (autonomic dysfunction) which has contributed to several strokes during Doug’s life, as well as diabetes and a heart condition.
  8. Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) for England (2021):   https://www.ukclimaterisk.org/publications/summary-for-england-ccra3-ia/#section-140-summary-of-risk-definition-and-description 
  9. Norfolk coastal erosion report warns 1,030 homes at risk | North Norfolk News [Feb 2024]: https://www.northnorfolknews.co.uk/news/24127945.norfolk-coastal-erosion-report-warns-1-030-homes-risk/ 
  10. Findings from the third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) Evidence Report 2021: https://www.ukclimaterisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/CCRA3-Briefing-Flooding-and-Coastal-Change.pdf 
  11. Climate-related mortality, England and Wales: 1988 to 2022 | Office for National Statistics (ONS): https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/climaterelatedmortalityandhospitaladmissionsenglandandwales/1988to2022#:~:text=An%20estimated%2051%2C670%20deaths%20(95,years%20from%201988%20to%202022 
  12. CCRA3 report for England https://www.ukclimaterisk.org/publications/summary-for-england-ccra3-ia/#section-165-summary-of-risk-definition-and-description 
  13. The Friends of the Earth legal team managing this case includes Will Rundle and Niall Toru. The Claimants are represented by leading environmental barristers: David Wolfe KC of Matrix Chambers, Margherita Cornaglia of Garden Court Chambers, and Nikolaus Grubeck of Monckton Chambers; and by Rowan Smith and Julia Eriksen at the law firm Leigh Day LLP. 



Planning for climate crisis falling ‘far short’ – Friends of the Earth reaction

Commenting on the Climate Change Committee’s warning today that government plans to help the UK adapt to the impacts of climate change “falls far short of what is required”, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said:

“It’s clear that government plans to protect people, property and infrastructure from the escalating climate crisis are unfit for purpose and must be improved. This is why we are taking legal action over the National Adaptation Programme, alongside two people whose lives are already being severely impacted by the climate crisis.

“Ministers must do more to face up to the reality of climate change, including faster action to end our reliance on costly fossil fuels – and a robust plan to help safeguard people’s lives and livelihoods from the consequences of a rapidly warming planet.”

Friends of the Earth is taking the government to court over its ‘unlawful’ climate adaptation plans, alongside two people who are already suffering the consequences of climate change:

Local campaigner Kevin Jordan was made homeless shortly before Christmas 2023, after his house in Hemsby, Norfolk was demolished after coastal erosion put it in severe danger of falling into the sea.

Disability rights activist Doug Paulley has a number of health conditions which are being exacerbated by searing summer temperatures, causing not just great distress and discomfort, but also putting him at increased risk of serious harm.

In the news...

When Kevin Jordan bought his seaside home in Hemsby, Norfolk, he was told it would be safe for a century. In the decade since, 17 of his neighbours’ homes have had to be demolished, or have been swept away into the waters of the North Sea. His is now just 5 metres from the fast-crumbling cliff, isolated and unreachable by car after part of the road collapsed into the North Sea.

The people of Hemsby would seem to be natural beneficiaries of official policies to adapt to the climate crisis. Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the government is required to produce a national adaptation programme every five years, setting out plans protect communities in the UK from the extreme heat, flooding and coastal erosion expected as the climate breaks down.

But critics, including the government’s own advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), have said it is not doing enough. And now, in a case believed to be the first of its kind, Jordan is taking the government to court, alleging its failure to set out lawful “adaptation objectives” in its latest plan is a breach of his human rights.

“The collapse of the road made so many more things a struggle,” Jordan said. “From emergency services to bin collections, grocery shopping and even the post, it’s been one thing after another. It feels like we’re being forgotten up here.”

In a care home 200 miles away, in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, lives Doug Paulley, a co-claimant in the case. He lives with a number of long-term conditions that make him particularly susceptible to overheating, including autonomic dysfunction, which has contributed to several strokes, as well as diabetes and a heart condition.

“During last year’s heatwaves in the UK, I practically had to hibernate to get through it, and couldn’t venture outside,” said Paulley. According to the Health Security Agency 2,803 excess deaths occurred during the summer of 2022. Those with medical conditions, older people and very young children were especially at risk.

But the adaptation plan fails to set out a cross-sector approach to addressing heat-related risks to the social care sector, nor does it provide dedicated long-term funding to retrofit care homes with insulation and cooling measures.

“Even when temperatures are in the minuses, I’m most comfortable wearing just a T-shirt and trousers – that should give an idea of how much I struggle with heat intolerance,” he said. “With the world only getting hotter, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for someone with my complex health needs to cope.”

The latest national adaptation programme (NAP3) was published in July, four months after the CCC warned MPs in a report to parliament that its predecessor plan, NAP2, included credible plans for only five of the 45 adaptation areas.

Jordan and Paulley’s legal challenge, supported by Friends of the Earth, argues that NAP3 continues to fall short. They say it breaches the Climate Change Act by failing to set out lawful “adaptation objectives”, and by failing to consider and publish an assessment of the risks to delivery of the plans and policies included.

In a case that is believed to be the first to challenge UK climate adaptation plans, they also ask the court to rule that the deficiencies in the national plan breach Jordan and Paulley’s human rights by failing to protect their lives, homes and property from foreseeable impacts of the climate crisis.

Friends of the Earth also believes that the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) failed to lawfully assess the unequal impacts of the NAP3 on protected groups under the Equality Act 2010, in line with the “public sector equality duty”.

The claimants have already written to the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to raise their concerns. But her department denied any wrongdoing and refused to disclose key documents. On 17 October, the claimants filed their case at the high court.

Will Rundle, the head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said: “This year has set a string of new global temperature records which have driven deadly heatwaves and wildfires across the world, and last July the UK exceeded 40C for the first time ever.

“We need our government to take urgent action to curb emissions and put in place credible plans to keep us safe from the extreme weather and impacts of climate change already devastating people’s lives. But the government’s latest adaptation plan continues to fall far short of what’s needed – and comes amid backtracking on the green policies needed to tackle climate change.

“Our co-claimants are among those most at risk from the climate crisis. We hope this case will lead to more ambitious and effective adaptation plans that better protect everyone, especially those who are already being hardest hit by climate breakdown.”

Read the full article HERE

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