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No more oil

Campaigners take government to court over its ‘unlawful’ offshore energy plan

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners called on the High Court today to declare that the Tory government acted unlawfully and to quash its endorsement of the latest oil and gas licensing round.

Greenpeace and Uplift are contesting in court the decision that a new round of offshore fossil fuel licensing is compatible with the Britain’s climate goals.

The groups told High Court judge Mr Justice Holgate that ministers had failed to consider the greenhouse gas emissions which could result from new licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea.

Greenpeace and Uplift have mounted the legal challenge after ministers opened a new round of oil and gas licensing for the seabed off the north and east coast of Britain last October.

As wildfires blazed on Greek islands blamed on climate change, the court was told the British government should have considered alternatives to new fossil fuel licensing,

More than 100 bids for exploration and development of the North Sea have been received since the 33rd round of licensing opened.

Ministers have said the new oil and gas licensing round is aimed at bolstering Britain’s current energy supply as well as its future security, as the ongoing war in Ukraine sees European nations struggle with high fuel costs.

Representing Greenpeace in court, James McClelland KC said the areas identified for extraction could result in hundreds of millions of barrels of oil and cubic feet of gas being produced.

He suggested it was feasible for the government to assess the amount of greenhouse gases that burning these new fuels would release into the atmosphere, but claimed ministers had chosen not to because of an “insufficient causal connection.”

Representing Uplift, Estelle Dehon KC said in a written argument that ministers had failed to “assess reasonable alternatives” to new homegrown fossil fuels.

The campaigners have asked the judge to declare the government acted unlawfully in adopting its offshore energy plan and to quash its endorsement of the latest oil and gas licensing round.

They also brought their case against the Oil and Gas Authority, now known as the North Sea Transition Authority, which is responsible for regulating the offshore industry.

For the government, Richard Turney added that alternatives to new licensing were unlikely to meet the Britain’s energy needs.

He said in a written argument to the court: “Overall, in its consideration of oil and gas production in the UK, the government has sought to ensure that important national concerns such as energy security and economic productivity can be safeguarded consistently with the UK’s legal obligations to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

“The striking of that balance was firmly a matter for ministers.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously backed new oil and gas exploration, claiming that new homegrown fossil fuels are necessary for Britain’s transition towards net zero.

But the PM is facing renewed pressure to stick to previous promises on net zero after a cross-party group of 23 MPs and peers warned him that Britain was sending “mixed signals” on the environment.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, parliamentarians, including Conservative former environment minister Lord Goldsmith and former Labour environment secretary Hilary Benn, called on Mr Sunak to demonstrate climate leadership by rejecting new fossil fuel projects and focus on green policies.

The court case continues on Wednesday as Mr Sunak considers watering down environmental policies after Conservative opposition to the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone was credited with winning the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.

Tory rightwingers seized on the victory as an opportunity to push for a dilution of the government’s net zero commitments, with Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg claiming they were “unpopular” and “expensive.”


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