Incinerator legal challenge launched

Georgia Elliott-Smith is an Extinction Rebellion activist and environmental engineer
Georgia Elliott-Smith is an Extinction Rebellion activist and environmental engineer

Extinction Rebellion campaigner set to take government to court, reports James Cracknell

A local climate activist is launching a legal case against the government’s policy on incinerators – after years of campaigning against a new Edmonton waste-burning plant.

Georgia Elliott-Smith is challenging the exclusion from the government’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) of carbon dioxide released by incinerators, which she claims allows waste authorities to ignore their climate impact.

The Extinction Rebellion activist works as an environmental engineer and told the Dispatch she decided to launch her court case following her experience opposing the new incinerator at Edmonton, which North London Waste Authority (NLWA) is now set to build.

A crowdfunder launched by Georgia to help cover her legal costs has so far raised £7,000. She said: “I have never done anything like this before, but I have worked as an environmental engineer for 25 years and I know this is wrong.

“I see every day how badly waste is managed and how the whole system is faulty. We produce too much waste and it is not being recycled enough – it ends up in incinerators.”

Georgia sought advice from a legal firm experienced in environmental law, and has begun to build her case. It centres around the government’s new ETS, which is being drawn up to replace the one the UK was part of when it was a member of the European Union.

“There is no system for managing and reducing emissions from incineration, which seems crazy,” said Georgia. “They say calculating emissions from incinerators is too complicated. It’s a cop out and it allows them to operate in the shadows.”

Campaign groups opposed to the new Edmonton incinerator have been locked in a heated battle with NLWA over the last year, with the former claiming it would release the equivalent of 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and the latter saying it would be only 28,000 tonnes.

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Georgia said: “They are using this system that allows them to offset emissions, so they can claim to be ‘green’ and be part of the solution to climate change, without anyone holding them to account – it’s greenwashing.

“This is the perfect chance to challenge them. We will make the case that by not including emissions from incineration, the government is contravening the Paris Agreement.

“The waste industry is incredibly powerful but I want to stand up to them. We have got three months to challenge this policy – it is a race against time.”

If Georgia wins her case, it would mean all incinerator operators would have to account for their carbon emissions and purchase ‘carbon credits’ through the ETS scheme. That in turn would lower the financial viability of incineration as a waste disposal option.

Two Enfield councillors recently pleaded with the boss of NLWA to halt development of the new Edmonton incinerator. Vicki Pite and Yasemin Brett asked Clyde Loakes, NLWA chair and deputy leader of Waltham Forest Council, to pause the scheme in light of the ‘climate emergency’. But Cllr Loakes ruled out reviewing the incinerator and told a NLWA meeting in June: “To suggest we haven’t been working hard to develop the best solution for North London for the next 25 years is incredibly disingenuous.
“At some point someone has to show some leadership, and I am proud of the members of this authority, making difficult decisions for the right reasons.”

Georgia added: “I’ve been involved with the [Edmonton] campaign for a few years but I have been frustrated at how we are fobbed off by politicians. It’s become clear the only way to get them to take notice is to take legal action.”

The government declined to comment.

For more information on Georgia’s legal case:

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