A week after the UK endured its hottest recorded temperatures in history, the government faces legal action for allegedly failing to take into account the climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from a recently approved North Sea gas project.
Greenpeace is taking the government to court claiming it is illegally ignoring emissions which will be generated from burning gas extracted from Shell’s Jackdaw gas field, worsening the climate crisis.
The project is one of six new North Sea fossil fuel projects given the green light by the government this year in a move which opponents have said will “torpedo” British efforts to tackle the climate crisis and disregards science.
Greenpeace has said it will argue that in approving the project the government failed in its legal duty to check the environmental impacts of the project by refusing to consider the damage caused by burning the gas extracted.
The campaign group said that when burnt, the gas will emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than Ghana’s total annual emissions.
Furthermore Greenpeace has said the extraction of the gas “will not even help ease the UK’s energy crisis, or have any effect on energy bills” because the licence belongs to Shell, so all gas will be sold on international markets to the highest bidder – something government officials have admitted.
Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the government’s approval of the drilling is a “scandal”.
He said: “The government knows that burning fossil fuels drives the climate crisis, yet they’re approving a new gas field in June, without proper climate checks, and declaring a national emergency over heatwaves in July.
“Meanwhile household bills are soaring, and the government is ignoring common sense solutions – like home insulation, heat pumps and cheap renewable power.”
He added: “We believe this is an astonishing dereliction of the government’s legal duty, and we won’t let it stand.
“So we’re taking legal action to stop Jackdaw, and whenever we see the government acting unlawfully to greenlight new fossil fuels we stand ready to fight in the courts.”
The lawsuit from Greenpeace comes after existing legal headaches for the government after the High Court ruled last week that the government’s existing net zero plans were inadequate and unlawful, and ruled that the strategy failed to effectively outline how the government would limit carbon emissions.
Jackdaw is the latest fossil fuel project set to become bogged down in legal uncertainty, with Greenpeace also seeking permission from the Supreme Court to challenge BP’s permit to extract oil from the Vorlich field, and promising to challenge drilling at Cambo – another North Sea site – if the government gives that project the nod.
Greenpeace said the government had “tied itself in knots” over plans to extract yet more climate-altering fossil fuels from the North Sea.
Last year the government promised a “climate compatibility checkpoint” would be applied to decisions on new fossil fuel licences, so that new exploration for fossil fuels could only go ahead if deemed to align with net zero. However the announcement was accused of creating a loophole, after it transpired the new checkpoint would not apply to new permits for individual projects, like Cambo or Jackdaw.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Cop26 President Alok Sharma and Energy Minister Greg Hands have all stated publicly that increasing UK gas production – either in the North Sea, or through pursuing fracked shale gas, would have no significant impact on wholesale gas prices as UK reserves are too small to have influence on the global market.
Despite this, just a few months later Mr Kwarteng granted the Jackdaw permit.
Courts in Scotland will now decide whether to grant Greenpeace permission to proceed with the legal challenge, which may be paused until after the separate Vorlich case is decided by the Supreme Court.
Last week environmental activists from the group Just Stop Oil caused traffic chaos after declaring the M25 motorway a “site of civil resistance”, as they called on the government to stop all new fossil fuel projects.
The Independent has contacted the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for comment.