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Future impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects must be assessed, UK court rules | coal fuel

Future impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects must be assessed, UK court rules |  coal fuel
Future impacts of proposed fossil fuel projects must be assessed, UK court rules |  coal fuel


The Supreme Court in London has ruled that the climate impacts of burning coal, oil and gas must be taken into account when deciding whether to approve a project.

The landmark ruling handed down on Thursday sets an important precedent for whether the inevitable future greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuel projects should be taken into account.

Activists hailed the ruling as a major victory in the fight for a livable climate and said it gave a boost to several domestic lawsuits opposing fossil fuel extraction.

The case was started by campaigner Sarah Finch, who challenged Surrey County Council's decision to extend planning permission for an oil rig at Horse Hill in the Weald. She argued that greenhouse gas emissions from oil use should also be considered when assessing the environmental impact of a project, as well as the drilling site itself. These are called scope 3 or downstream emissions. The commission argued it had discretion to decide what the overall impact of the project would be.

Lower courts were not sympathetic to Finch's argument, but the Supreme Court majority said it was clear that combustion emissions from oil projects were part of the overall environmental impact.

Three of the five justices agreed that the whole purpose of fossil fuel extraction is to make hydrocarbons combustible. Therefore, we can say with almost certainty that once oil is extracted from the ground, the carbon it contains will sooner or later be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming.

The International Energy Agency says no new oil and gas exploration should take place if the world limits global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

The court noted that the law governing environmental impact assessments in the UK does not impose geographical limits on impacts. In principle, all potential significant effects of a project should be evaluated, regardless of where (or when) those effects will be created or felt. It is unjustifiable to limit the scope of the assessment to impacts expected to occur at or near the project site.

The court emphasized that appropriate impact assessments are key to ensuring the democratic legitimacy of decisions affecting the environment. You said you can only care about what you know.

Activists are awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Finch said he was overwhelmed by the decision and praised the court's clarity. I was always convinced that we were right.

The court added that fossil fuels are a special case and the same does not necessarily apply to other carbon-intensive raw materials, such as steel, which can be used for a variety of purposes.

The decision does not prevent public agencies from approving projects with significant climate impacts, but it strengthens the case for rejection.

Surrey County Council said in a statement that the ruling makes it clear that local planning authorities must consider downstream discharges and permission for the Horse Hill project must be decided in a timely manner.

Activists have also filed other lawsuits, such as those against the Rosebank and Jackdaw oil and gas fields in the North Sea, which also challenge the way the projects are assessed.

Tessa Khan, climate lawyer and managing director of Uplift, one of the groups challenging Rosebank, said this was a major victory in the fight for a livable climate. The government can no longer keep repeating that emissions from burning oil reserves are not accounted for.

It also gives a boost to litigation challenging the government's decision to approve a controversial new coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria, which had been delayed pending the Horse Hill ruling. West Cumbria Mining, the company behind Whitehaven, was allowed to intervene in the Supreme Court.

Matthew McFeeley, an attorney with South Lakes Action on Climate Change, who is leading the case, said: “This is an important step for the Supreme Court to properly consider the downstream impacts of fossil fuel projects. recognition, and the country's approach in relation to mines in Cumbria. The parties will now go to the High Court to question the effect of the Supreme Court ruling and whether the decision was unlawful on the basis that it considered the coal mine to be carbon neutral.

Andrew Boswell, a retired computer scientist and climate activist who has filed several lawsuits challenging the climate impacts of road construction, also welcomed the ruling. This is an important signal to fossil fuel extractors, polluting industries and road developers that they can no longer underestimate how much they are destabilizing the climate system. If the next government is serious about climate change, it should work to strengthen the law to close all such loopholes.

Boswell said it would particularly impact his recent case against Teesside's net zero gas plans.

The Department of Energy Security and NetZero said they would carefully consider the impact of the ruling.




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