UK government suffers setback on plans for fossil fuel expansion

26th April 2023

The High Court has today granted Greenpeace permission to proceed with a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to launch a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration last year.

Former prime minister Liz Truss opened up a licensing round to allow oil and gas companies to explore for fossil fuels in the North Sea last October, and more than 100 submissions have been made since.

However, a judge has given the green light for a full judicial review of the decision for not taking into account the environmental effects of consuming the oil and gas to be extracted in the new licensing round.

Greenpeace’s legal argument is that the decision failed the government’s climate compatibility check as it did not look at the emissions that would be created from burning the fossil fuels.

Today’s news comes one month after stark warnings from the IPCC and UN secretary general, which restated that there must be no new fossil fuel development if the world is to limit warming to 1.5°C, with current approved projects already enough to take us beyond that point.

Philip Evans, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, said: “This verdict is the first real setback for the government’s reckless oil and gas licensing round.

“Ministers will now be forced to justify in front of a judge why they want to unleash a new drilling frenzy in the North Sea against the advice of leading scientists and the UN chief, without assessing the climate impact.”

Around the time the new licensing round was announced last year, the government actually argued that the move would be beneficial for the environment.

Climate minister, Graham Stuart, said: “It’s good for the environment, because when we burn our own gas it's got lower emissions around its production than foreign gas.

“So you really can be assured that it's actually – I know it sounds contradictory – but it's actually good for the environment that we are going to produce more of our gas and oil at home."

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has since said that ending the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels will spur net zero and low-carbon energy generation, while reducing exposure to the energy price crisis that Russia’s war in Ukraine has provoked.

In a report last January, the cross-party group of MPs also called on the government to set a clear date for ending new oil and gas licensing rounds.

EAC chair, Philip Dunne, said: “Britain will continue to need to access fossil fuel supplies during the net-zero transition. But government should consult on setting an end date for licensing oil and gas from the North Sea.

"We can accelerate this transition by fully harnessing our abundant renewable energy resources, including tidal energy that can deliver a reliable year-round source of clean electricity, and by upgrading our energy inefficient buildings."

Image credit: Shutterstock


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