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ClientEarth Communications

30th January 2020

Climate accountability
Fossil fuels

Drax legal case: We're taking the UK government to court over Europe's largest gas plant

We’ve launched a High Court challenge against the UK government for its decision to approve plans for Europe’s largest gas plant. The Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, approved energy company Drax's  controversial large-scale gas plant despite the government’s own planning authority recommending the plans be rejected on climate grounds.

Her decision undermines the UK’s path to reducing carbon emissions and building a more sustainable energy sector. So we’re taking action.

Drax: An unwarranted asset

With scientists also ringing the alarm bells for decades, we shouldn’t need to take the government to court over its decision to allow what would be Europe’s biggest gas plant.

Amid our global climate emergency, we can’t afford the UK to be locked into heavily polluting gas power for decades to come. The Government’s own climate body, the Committee on Climate Change, has warned there should be no more gas on the UK grid by the mid-2030s without carbon capture and storage.

Yet UK energy company Drax plans to install four new gas turbines at its plant in Selby, North Yorkshire.

In its planning application, it claimed its proposal was warranted to replace its existing two coal-fired units ahead of the government’s proposed coal phase-out in 2025. But the government’s latest forecasts estimate that the UK will need just 6GW of new gas generation to 2035 and they have already approved 15GW worth of large-scale gas plants. Approving Drax’s project would take total planned gas capacity to 18GW – three times the Government’s estimates.

In June 2019, the UK set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Another large-scale gas plant makes no sense if we’re to roll out this rapid decarbonisation, especially when so much gas power has already been approved.

Background to the Drax legal case: Rejecting the climate authority

When Drax submitted its plans in 2018, we objected, arguing that if the project were to go ahead, it risked locking the UK into unnecessary fossil fuel power for decades to come.

Our assessment of the plant’s climate impact, supported by climate think-tank Sandbag, also found that the project could create 400% more greenhouse gas emissions than if it weren’t built.

ClientEarth’s climate lawyer Sam Hunter Jones explains: “In its planning application, Drax failed to explain how this emissions-intensive gas project squares with the UK’s carbon targets and its strategy for clean growth. And the Government’s own energy forecasts show that the UK does not need a major roll out of new large-scale gas generation capacity.”

The Planning Inspectorate agreed with us and recommended the project be blocked. They ruled that the project’s climate impacts outweighed any benefits. This was the first time that the authority has recommended a major project be refused permission for its future climate impact.

However, Andrea Leadsom, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy rejected the planning authority’s recommendation and approved the project to go ahead.

Our legal challenge against the government's Drax decision

Our lawyers are looking to overturn the approval given to Drax. The combination of the project’s scale, emissions intensity and operating life make it a significant threat to the UK’s carbon targets.

Sam explains: “The Secretary of State has ignored the recommendations of her own planning authority, and her decision is at odds with the government’s own climate change plans to decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.”

“Only this month David Attenborough warned governments to take more action to tackle global heating, pointing to the Australian bushfires as proof humanity’s moment of crisis has come.

“With scientists also ringing the alarm bells for decades, we shouldn’t need to take the government to court over its decision to allow what would be Europe’s biggest gas plant.”