The UK government is potentially facing three separate legal challenges as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Uplift seek to stop up to 130 new oil and gas licences from going ahead.
The campaign groups have each written to the business secretary, Grant Shapps, setting out why they consider the 33rd offshore licensing round to be unlawful and calling for the decision, taken by his predecessor, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to be reversed.
Fixated on fossil fuels
The government’s fixation with fossil fuels, instead of cleaner, cheaper forms of energy, has left it fighting multiple legal battles.
Campaigners already have legal challenges underway relating to the Horse Hill oil project in Surrey, the Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea and the $1 billion financing for a gas mega-project in Mozambique.
There could be even more legal headaches looming if the government approves development plans for the Cambo or Rosebank fields.
‘When the UK extracts oil from the North Sea it sends a deadly ripple effect out to the rest of the world – with lives lost or torn apart by the climate crisis. Africa is being hit hardest and fastest by global heating and extreme weather. Here in Senegal, for instance, we saw people tragically killed by flash floods earlier this year.’
Greenpeace International’s Racial Justice Global Project lead
‘We stand ready’
In their letters before action – the first step in a legal challenge – all three NGOs have warned the UK government about its failure to properly take into account the full scale of planet-heating gases released by the new licensing round. Greenpeace has already taken the further step of filing an application for judicial review against the government’s decision.
After world leaders failed to agree on emissions reductions at COP27 climate talks in Egypt, Greenpeace campaigners fear that moves by the UK government to unleash up to 130 new North Sea licences will torpedo any hopes of keeping global temperature rises to 1.5°C.
‘These licences are a complete disaster. And the government has failed in its legal duty to properly assess their climate impact, choosing to ignore 80% of the emissions they would generate. Instead of new oil and gas, the government could tackle both the energy and the climate crises by properly taxing fossil fuel companies and using that money to invest in home insulation and cheap, clean renewable power. Whenever the government unlawfully approves new oil and gas, we stand ready to take legal action.’
Oil and gas campaigner for Greenpeace UK
Ignoring climate science
In its letter to the government, Friends of the Earth takes aim at the government’s so-called ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’, which was introduced to assess the climate impacts of future offshore oil and gas developments.
The group argues that the mechanism is unlawful because it ignores climate science.
‘Approving new oil and gas projects is clearly incompatible with achieving our climate goals. The government’s ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ is an exercise in greenwashing. It gives a false impression that climate impacts are being considered, while brazenly side-stepping scientists’ warnings that new fossil fuel developments are incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
‘Future licensing of North Sea oil and gas projects means the UK will fall disastrously behind on cutting emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. We’ve written to the minister to explain why we think the checkpoint is unlawful and are considering our legal options.’
Senior lawyer at Friends of the Earth