Campaigners are due in the High Court today for the first hearing in a judicial review over the government’s plans to continue offering licences for North Sea oil and gas exploration.
Backed by Greenpeace and fossil fuel campaigners Uplift, the hearing seeks to challenge the UK government’s “reckless” decision to proceed with awarding new exploration licences as part of the 33rd Licensing Round.
Launched last year, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) is currently considering 115 applications for new acreage from some 76 companies as part of the process.
Tuesday’s hearing forms the first step in a trio of actions threatened by campaigners in the wake of the announcement last year, with a judge granting permission for a full Judicial Review of Greenpeace’s argument in April.
Its contention is that the UK government has “failed to properly assess the climate impact” of the new round and has failed to properly consider “reasonable alternatives.”
The group argues that none of the tests set out as part of the government’s climate compatibility checkpoint process for new oil and gas development consider the emissions created from burning fossil fuels, despite the fact that this will cover more than four-fifths of the total emissions from the new licences.
It also contends that the government has not explain how the 33rd Round is compatible with the UK’s wider climate objectives.
The hearing follows “unprecedented” weeks for the global climate, during which records for temperature, ocean heat, and Antarctic sea ice have all been broken – driven largely by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Leading academics have warned that further licensing would undermine the UK’s position as a global climate leader and make it more difficult to limit further rises in global temperatures.
However, the government maintains new oil and gas is needed for domestic energy security.
In a conversation with the Financial Times last weekend, energy security secretary Grant Shapps said the administration would “max out” the North Sea’s oil and gas reserves, and claimed that UK carbon emissions would still decline at “twice the rate” outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has been approached for comment.
‘No public benefit’
Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner Philip Evans said: “We’re in the High Court today to hold the government to account on their reckless decision to approve new oil and gas without properly checking the damage it will do to the climate.
“It’s a scandal that the government is attempting to ignore over 80% of emissions generated by new fossil fuel developments in their decision-making process, and in fact it’s unlawful.”
He added that further drilling in the North Sea would also “do nothing to help bring down bills or boost energy security.”
Uplift executive director and climate lawyer Tessa Khan said: “The grounds for challenging these new licenses is clear, but we shouldn’t have to take the government to court. There is no public benefit from new licensing: most of the UK’s gas is gone and the majority of the oil that’s left will be exported.
“This government’s pandering to the oil and gas lobby is holding back the massive expansion in cheaper renewables that we need to ensure the UK has a secure supply of affordable energy that doesn’t mess with our climate.”
Greenpeace has initiated similar action over the decision to approve development of Shell’s Jackdaw field, a case expected to reach court at some point next year, pending the outcome of a separate case brought against Surrey County Council in the Supreme Court.
Uplift, meanwhile, has also threatened the government with legal action should it approve the Rosebank development West of Shetland, a decision on which has now been moved further into Q3.