The total climate impacts of proposed latest or prolonged fossil fuel projects should not routinely considered when planning permission is sought, despite the deepening climate crisis and the UK’s commitment to net zero.
As an alternative, planning authorities incessantly just consider the climate impact attributable to the strategy of getting the fossil fuels out of the bottom – and never the emissions which might be created when the gas, oil or coal is eventually – and inevitably – burnt. Yet that’s when the overwhelming majority of the emissions are produced.
The problem of failure to account for these ‘downstream’ or ‘scope 3’ emissions within the environmental impact assessment is currently the topic of an appeal within the Supreme Court.
Sarah Finch is difficult Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for oil drilling at Horse Hill, near Gatwick airport, without making an allowance for the downstream emissions. The UK government has chosen to take part in the appeal and is defending the approval of the project. A call is anticipated later this 12 months.
If Ms Finch wins her case, it could have a profound impact on all latest UK fossil fuel developments, each onshore and offshore.
She said: “The largest climate impact from gas, coal and oil production occurs when the fuel is eventually burned. It’s outrageous that that is ignored when decisions are remodeled whether to permit latest and expanded fossil fuel projects.
“That is what my appeal over oil production at Horse Hill is about – and I hope the Supreme Court will confirm that no fossil fuel production – on or offshore – needs to be allowed without consideration of its full climate impact.”
One other significant development where the climate impact attributable to burning the extracted fossil fuel was not considered is the controversial latest coal mine planned for Cumbria, which the federal government approved last 12 months.
The choice is facing a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Motion on Climate Change. The High Court has agreed to a ‘rolled-up’ hearing, however the court says it’s going to wait for the consequence of the Horse Hill legal challenge before setting a date – highlighting the critical importance of Sarah Finch’s challenge.
Friends of the Earth – together with ClientEarth and Good Law Project – are also taking legal motion against the federal government over its plans for tackling climate change and meeting the country’s legally-binding carbon emissions targets.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This text relies on a press release from Friends of the Earth.