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Press release: 1 November 2021
ClientEarth lawyers have warned that climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects such as the Cambo oil field could be waved through without proper assessment of the climate impact of offshore oil and gas in the UK.
The environmental law charity’s legal experts have written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warning that the Government’s delay in updating the environmental assessment means new projects could receive approval based on outdated analysis.
They cautioned that failure to deliver a report that gives a full picture of the climate consequences of oil and gas development will leave the Government open to legal challenge, and that further delay to the assessment was only increasing litigation risk.
The department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy was expected to release a new Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (OESEA) – used to guide government policy and decisions regarding fossil fuel developments in UK waters – before the end of the year.
But there has been no update on the report – the first to be conducted in five years – since an initial scoping consultation was launched in May, and no response to that consultation.
ClientEarth’s lawyers are concerned that the Government’s update of the OESEA has been significantly delayed at a critical time when decision makers are considering applications for new oil and gas projects that risk locking in carbon emissions to 2050 and beyond.
Furthermore, the 2016 assessment does not reflect research from the International Energy Agency nor the United Nations Environment Programme that both set out the need for countries to make their oil and gas extraction consistent with global climate goals.
ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “Decisions on new North Sea oil and gas projects like the Cambo oil field risk fatally undermining efforts to meet the world’s climate targets by locking in polluting infrastructure and emissions for decades to come.
“The Government is asleep at the wheel in allowing these decisions to be made based on an out-of-date impact assessment – especially one that is severely out of step with the recent authoritative warnings on the action necessary to avoid catastrophic global heating.
“Ahead of COP26, where the UK Government is positioning itself as a leader on climate action, it’s difficult to understand why work on this vital assessment is not moving forward with urgency.”
ClientEarth lawyers also argue the scope of climate impacts set to be addressed in the updated OESEA is incomplete and would open the Government to legal challenge if adopted.
There has been no indication the report will include the environmental effects of additional oil and gas supply on consumption and so-called ‘downstream’ emissions from those fossil fuels being burnt. There is also no indication it will cover impacts relating to extraction under existing licences that are yet to be consented.
Lawyers are concerned this irrationally excludes the most severe environmental impacts of these projects, creating a significant evidence gap.
Failing to strengthen the current scope also means emerging policies expected to underpin the UK’s energy transition, such as the proposed ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’ for oil and gas licensing, will be informed by incomplete information.
Hunter Jones added: “If the Government fails to deliver a legally adequate assessment that provides decision-makers with the full picture of climate impacts, we will be prepared to bring legal action.
“The delay to the assessment also begs the question whether the Government wants an evidence-based approach to consenting new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“We are in a climate emergency. There is simply no room for head-in-the-sand analysis that risks greenwashing the climate damage these projects would cause, and makes a mockery of international efforts at COP26 to curb global emissions.”
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.