Make incineration polluters pay

by Georgia Elliott-Smith

Make incineration polluters pay

by Georgia Elliott-Smith
Georgia Elliott-Smith
Case Owner
I live in Enfield with my husband & two kids. An environmental engineer and UNESCO Special Envoy for Youth & the Environment, I enjoy gin & tonic, attending XR protests and bothering MPs for justice.
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Georgia Elliott-Smith
Case Owner
I live in Enfield with my husband & two kids. An environmental engineer and UNESCO Special Envoy for Youth & the Environment, I enjoy gin & tonic, attending XR protests and bothering MPs for justice.
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Latest: June 8, 2021

Post-hearing update: What's in a word?

It's been a while since my last update and a few of you asked for news so I'm sorry to make you wait. Here goes...

Our High Court hearing took place on 14th & 15th April. It was fascinatin…

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Enough is enough!

In the UK, around 60% of our household waste ends up being burned in incinerators – even though most of it could be recycled if there were stricter government regulation. You know why there’s not? Because it’s cheaper to burn it.

What's at stake?

I’m tired of pollution filling the lungs of my children, suffocating those that live in poorer, more industrial parts of the country (the government allowed a mega-incinerator in Edmonton but rejected one in Cambridge). I'm tired of incinerators claiming to be environmentally-friendly while they pour out greenhouse gases that are destroying the planet.

Companies like power stations and landfill operators have to pay tax for the burden their pollution creates on society, which means the less they pollute, the less tax they pay. But not incinerators - they do not pay tax as a rubbish disposal route or as a major CO2 emitter.

I have spent the last year tirelessly campaigning to get MPs, incinerator operators and local councils to implement better ways of dealing with our rubbish but they’re just not listening. As an environmental engineer, I know that there are cleaner, greener ways to reduce, reuse and recycle materials that make a fairer society for everyone. Enough is enough!

In 2019, the UK had 48 incinerators that poured 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – and didn’t pay a single penny for it. That’s the same as all the emissions from Birmingham and Manchester put together. Worse, a further 17 incinerators are under construction and dozens more are seeking planning permission.

Our legal challenge

Brexit means the UK government is rewriting environmental policies, but incineration is excluded from the new UK Emissions Trading Scheme, a crucial way to manage and reduce CO2. Ignoring incineration – simply because it’s cheaper – will be disastrous. 

In 2016, the UK ratified the Paris Agreement stating that they would take every opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions as fast as possible. This is a legally-binding commitment and the basis on which the recent challenge against the Heathrow expansion was won (in fact, my QC David Wolf is the same Superman that won that case!). 

Omitting major polluters like incinerators from the UK ETS is directly against the Paris Agreement - it is on this basis that I plan to take the government to court.

Why is this case so important?

Make incinerators pay for the pollution they cause. Winning this case will stop incinerators from getting away with polluting our cities and our homes. We know that 80% of incinerated waste could be recycled – we know there’s an alternative.

But I can’t do this alone. Please help me fund this legal challenge so that Her Majesty’s Government hears us when we say enough is enough.

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Update 7

Georgia Elliott-Smith

June 8, 2021

Post-hearing update: What's in a word?

It's been a while since my last update and a few of you asked for news so I'm sorry to make you wait. Here goes...

Our High Court hearing took place on 14th & 15th April. It was fascinating and tense, with a brilliant performance by David Wolfe QC, supported in the wings by Ben Mitchell, Rowan Smith & Julia Erikson. David presented our arguments to Justice Dove with dazzling panache and laser insight, challenging the government's team who made some quite startling arguments. More on that later.

My personal high point was being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour at the start of Day Two. Hear the interview here:

After all that drama, we then entered the long wait to receive the judgement - a process that I am told can take weeks, possibly months. Seven weeks on and nothing yet, but perhaps it's true that no news is good news, and I'm using the intervening period to continue campaigning and raising awareness.

In court, one of the most surprising arguments was based on the fact that the Climate Change Act allows the government to create an emissions trading scheme "for the purpose of limiting CO2 emissions". The government QC argued that placing any limit on emissions levels, even one that is far higher than current business-as-usual emissions, is compliant with the Act. They argued that the Act "does not require the government to reduce carbon emissions at all, let alone by the maximum possible extent". Plainly this is nonsense - in this context, limiting clearly means preventing increase. It's a cynical and shocking use of word play by government to wriggle out of meaningful climate action so I wait with baited breath to hear what the judge has to say about that.

I am now also able to reveal several disclosed secret documents demonstrating that Alok Sharma and Kwasi Kwarteng, whilst making speeches about climate ambition in the run-up to COP26, simultaneously approved a policy that civil servants advised was not aligned with a net zero trajectory now or for many years ahead, created such a low carbon price that it risked retaliation measures by the EU, and knowing acted against advice from the Committee on Climate Change that the policy was ineffective.

A national newspaper has the documents and are preparing an article for publication shortly. Watch this space!

Update 6

Georgia Elliott-Smith

April 11, 2021

High court hearing this week!

I can't believe the day is almost here - on Weds 14th and Thurs 15th April, the full high court hearing takes place for my challenge to Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and the ministers of the four devolved administrations.

My challenge centres on two key grounds: 

1) that the carbon allowances permitted within the new UK emissions trading scheme are way above current business-as-usual levels. To put this into context, available allowances in the ETS are 150Mt, BAU emissions in 2019 were 120Mt. This means it could take NINE YEARS before industry is required to reduce carbon emissions by a single gram. I say this is illegal because the Paris Agreement requires governments to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible. The government state they set the level so high to smooth the UK's exit from the EU - I believe this is an illegal use of the Climate Change Act, whose purpose is soley to reduce greenhouse gases.

2) that the UK ETS is ineffective because it omits major polluters such as waste incineration. 'Energy from waste' plants currently emit the same amount of CO2 as the whole of Manchester & Birmingham every year and this is set to more than double in coming years. I believe the government must create a scheme that includes all major emitters and requires them to both account accurately for their emissions and be subject to the only regulation currently in place to force emissions reductions.

Since the hearing will be held online, anyone is free to attend. You can obtain the Teams link by emailing quoting court reference CO/3093/2020. Remember that microphones & cameras must be switched off and recording any part of the proceedings is not allowed.

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the crowd-funding campaign and shared the link on social media. There's no way I could have done this without you.

Keep your fingers crossed & I hope to see you there!

Update 5

Georgia Elliott-Smith

Jan. 13, 2021

Happy New Year! A long overdue update

Happy New Year to you all! As we enter 2021, I realise I haven't posted an update since announcing the public hearing in December determining whether this case could proceed. Well, I'm over the moon to report that we won!

The wonderful Mr Justice Morris took several hours to review the case at an online public hearing on 1st December. After listening to evidence from the QCs on both sides, he concluded that our challenge has merit and is substantial, granting us permission to proceed to a full hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in March 2021. Almost 70 people attended the proceedings, showing just how passionate many of you are about this topic.

Mr Morris's concluding comments were strongly in favour of our arguments, giving me great hope for the final judgement.

Thank you all so much for your incredible support so far. Your comments and emails have been so uplifting during this long and stressful journey, not to mention your generous donations. I really couldn't have done it without you.

So, now we're on the final stretch. We await confirmation of the court date which I'll share as soon as I know. Watch this space and, as ever, please don't hesitate to get in touch or share this page with your network. Thank you!

Update 4

Georgia Elliott-Smith

Oct. 29, 2020

We have a public review hearing!

Last week, I received a short but initially incredibly depressing letter from Mr Justice Lane of the High Court, refusing permission for our challenge to proceed. In a one-page shot to the heart, he stated we had no credible case. After a day languishing in the dumps, my lawyer advised me that this is completely run-of-the-mill and not to worry.

On examination of the letter, it was clear this judge, an immigration & asylum specialist, had not actually read the paperwork. He rejected our case on grounds that had been withdrawn and had even failed to recognise that this was an environmental legal case, subject to the Aarhus Convention.

My lawyer tells me that cases are reviewed by whoever happens to be on duty that day, no matter their specialism. They review dozens of cases a day, each with hundreds of pages of paperwork, leaving little more than twenty minutes to reach a conclusion. He was candid - the legal system is simply not fit for purpose in complex new cases such as these.

I was relieved to find that we now progress to a public hearing where my QC presents the case to a new judge, asking face-to-face for permission to proceed. The defence will also present. My team are confident that we will pass this hurdle to progress to a full hearing.

Excitingly, public hearings are now conducted via MS Teams so anyone who wishes can tune in for the show from the comfort of their sofa! Everyone but the judge and counsel have their mics and cameras switched off (sorry XR buddies - no chance to disrupt 😉).

So, on 1st December you are welcome to join me in watching the proceedings online. It will either be held in the morning (10am) or afternoon (2pm) and last for 1hr. We'll receive the link and time confirmation approx 24hrs ahead which I'll share by email and on my Facebook page (

As ever, your support is incredible and is keeping me sane in these crazy times 💚 Onwards!

Georgia x

Update 3

Georgia Elliott-Smith

Oct. 6, 2020

Burning the midnight oil, and a long wait

I'm sorry it's been ages since my last update. Many boring things have been going on in the background and I've been burning the (100% renewable) midnight oil, sifting through hundreds of pages of correspondence. I'll spare you the details!

Here's the short version of events:

On 1st September my legal eagles filed papers at the High Court informing the Secretary of State for BEIS that we are seeking a judicial review of the UK Emissions Trading Scheme. They presented eight grounds for challenge.

On 26th September the government lawyers responded saying that they fully contested the challenge and provided a 111-page "Summary Grounds of Resistance" (clearly the word summary has a different meaning to lawyers).

The government's responses allowed us to narrow our focus to the three strongest challenges with the greatest overall impact. These are:

1. That the government acted unlawfully and disregarded the Paris Agreement by excluding waste incineration from the UK ETS.

2. That by providing far too many CO2 allowances (well above "business as usual" emissions), they are unlawfully failing to reduce industrial CO2 quickly enough.

3. That the reason given for setting the emissions ceiling so high is unlawful, i.e. to maintain industrial competitiveness and soften the blow of Brexit. This is contrary to the Paris Agreement. 

We now wait with bated breath for the court's permission to proceed and the date of the hearing. This should be in the next 4 weeks which feels like a lifetime. As soon as I find out, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I have created a Facebook page to keep you all updated on progress. Search for @MakeIncineratorsPay or click the link here: Please join the go

Til next time, thank you for your continued support and I wish you all health and happiness.


Update 2

Georgia Elliott-Smith

Aug. 15, 2020

£5,000 initial target smashed! And a letter from the government

Today I woke to discover that the initial target of £5,000 has been smashed in just 7 days. This is truly amazing and I can't thank all my supporters enough - you are wonderful! Your comments have shown that you feel as strongly about this as I do. I'm fighting this case for all of you.

Because we've hit £5k, I don't need to have sleepless nights worrying about financial penalties. Now the enormous task of raising the full £30,000 for court fees and legal costs begins.

This week, I received a letter from the government lawyers asking for more time to respond to our Letter Before Action. Strictly speaking, they are only allowed two weeks to reply, but because all the important folk of Westminster are sunning themselves during summer recess, they have requested an extra week to respond.

So, should I allow their request or refuse it? I flirted briefly with the idea of saying no but given what a terrible time we've all been through these last months, I couldn't begrudge anyone a break from the office. So, we wait with bated breath for a full reply on 26th August.

As soon as I hear, I'll be sure to let you know what they say. Our next deadline is 1st September, the date by which papers must be filed at court formally beginning the legal action.

Until then, please continue to share this campaign with your networks and help me shout from the rooftops that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Thank you.

Update 1

Georgia Elliott-Smith

Aug. 10, 2020

Letter Before Action sent to SoS Alok Sharma

Thank you so much to everyone who's already contributed to this fundraiser - we've raised over £1,500 in 24 hours which is incredible!

Some of you have asked for more detail on the legal case so here goes - we get technical quite fast so bear with me.

On Wednesday 5th August, Leigh Day (my superstar lawyers) sent a Letter Before Action to Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. This is a required first step and notifies the government that I intend to start a legal challenge. They get 2 weeks to respond before we file papers at court on 1st Sept and the heavy stuff really begins.

So what exactly are we challenging? Turns out that the shit storm we call Brexit has a silver lining - the UK government has to rewrite loads of policies and regulations. On 1st June, BEIS published a document called "The future of UK carbon pricing" setting out their plans for a new UK Emissions Trading Scheme - something previously run by EU. An ETS is a mechanism to make the largest industrial carbon emitters like power stations, aviation and manufacturers calculate their annual CO2 emissions and purchase an equivalent number of "credits". Every year the available number of credits is reduced by 5% forcing industry to gradually reduce their emissions. 

The document doesn't ignore incinerators, it specifically name drops them - not to chastise for their enormous CO2 emissions, but to omit them from the scheme entirely.

The UK has 48 operational municipal waste incinerators. In 2019 these plants released as much CO2 as the whole of Birmingham & Manchester together. Dozons more are planned.

In 2016, the UK ratified the Paris Agreement stating that they would take every opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions as fast as possible. This is a legally-binding committment and the basis on which the recent challenge against the Heathrow expasion was won (in fact, my QC David Wolf is the same Superman that won that case!). Omitting major polluters like incinerators from the UK ETS is directly against the Paris Agreement.

That's the nub of it, but of course, there's a lot more detail which I'll write about as the case progresses. If you have any questions, please do ask me and I'll happily answer them here. You can find me on Facebook or email me at

For now, we have 2 weeks waiting for the government's response which should be in my hand by 1st Sept. Of course, I'll update you as we go. 

Til then, I'll be forever grateful if you can help me make some noise by sharing this page and my story as widely as possible. And, because it turns out that taking on the government isn't free, if you can bung in a fiver, I'll buy you a pint in return the next time I see you!

Love & rage, Georgia

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