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Press release: 21 January 2022
Lawyers at ClientEarth, together with 13 NGOs, are appealing the approval of petrochemicals giant Ineos’s plastics plant project in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium.
The appeal comes following the recent greenlight the Flemish authorities gave to Ineos’s new permit for ‘Project One’.
The new permit is Ineos’s fresh attempt to get the project signed off after first cutting the project in half before deciding to drop its initial permit all together last year. Prior to this decision, the environmental groups had challenged and successfully blocked Ineos’s first permit for the €3 billion project.
The groups have repeatedly stated that Project One fails to meet the legal requirements and should not go ahead.
ClientEarth lawyer Tatiana Luján said: “In approving this project, the Flemish authorities have once again brushed its gigantic impacts under the carpet.
“Beyond the local effects on nature and health Project One would cause, we cannot ignore that the basis of this project is fossil fuels, and they’ll be used to create the building blocks of plastics. Plants like Project One are the fossil fuel industry’s ‘Plan B’. An investment of this scale would not only provide a lifeline for this climate-damaging sector, but also generate serious environmental and climate impacts that would be felt at each stage of its lifecycle.
“Approving Project One’s permit for the second time despite its far-reaching consequences is nonsensical. We are renewing our fight to stop this project from going ahead once and for all.”
Julie Vandenberghe from WWF said: “The private sector, especially the high energy consuming industry, has a crucial role to play in the transition towards a climate-neutral society. With Project One, Ineos locks in fossil fuels for many years to come instead of doing its fair share in the climate transition. This project is contributing to climate change, not helping to reach the 1.5°C goal of the Paris agreement."
Due to the cross-border pollution Project One will generate, the Netherlands has decided to submit its own appeal against the approval of the project's permit.
Delphine Lévi Alvarès from Break Free From Plastic Europe (co-founded and hosted by Zero Waste Europe) said: “If it hasn’t been made clear before, it has to be made clear now: the world cannot take more plastic. The approval of Project One runs a clear and certain risk of inundating an already saturated market and Europe will not reach its circular economy goals by continuing to keep the tap of plastic production running.
“The legacy that Project One will leave will be one of plastic pollution. The detrimental environmental effects of this will not be confined to Belgium’s borders: with the Netherlands also appealing the decision to approve Project One, this goes to show that there is wide concern of the far-reaching consequences Ineos’s project will have.”
ClientEarth is working with the following organisations to stop the expansion of the Ineos plastics complex: Natuurbeschermingsvereniging De Steltkluut, Klimaatzaak, Greenpeace Belgium, Fairfin, BOS+, Recycling Netwerk Benelux, Grootouders voor het Klimaat, Climaxi, Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL), WWF Belgium, Zero Waste Europe, Gallifrey Foundation and Plastic Soup Foundation.
The environmental groups’ appeal is being submitted to the Environmental Ministry of Flanders. The Ministry will decide whether or not to uphold the decision to approve the permit. If the NGOs’ appeal is rejected, the groups can challenge the decision in court.
The planned plastics installation – known as “Project One” – was originally set to comprise two new plants: an ethane cracker, which converts ethane to ethylene, and a plant that converts propane to propylene. Ethylene and propylene are both raw materials for making plastics. In January 2021, Ineos announced it would indefinitely suspend plans for the propane part of the expansion. Ineos’s most recent Ineos Holding Group financial statements state that this cancellation has already cost Ineos €118.5 million. In March, Ineos decided to pull its permit for the clearance of the woodland and prepare a new permit application instead. This is the application for which it is now seeking approval.
Ineos is seeking approval for a new environmental permit, which attempts to reflect the full environmental impacts of its planned plastic project in the Port of Antwerp. However, the environmental groups’ objection outlines why the permit’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) still fails to meet the legal requirements and should not be granted.
ClientEarth and its partners have consistently taken legal action against Ineos’s permitting procedure, arguing that the Flemish authorities failed to fully assess the environmental impacts of the expansion – a clear breach of EU and national laws. The groups’ initial legal case delayed the project by over a year.
In December 2020, the environmental organisations submitted a judicial appeal against the approval of Ineos’s previous permit for the woodland clearance needed for Project One. It came following an emergency injunction filed by the environmental groups in an urgent legal bid to prevent the felling of the forest. The approval of the injunction by the Council for Permit Disputes in Flanders, Belgium, meant Ineos was blocked from going ahead with the project until the judicial appeal is concluded.
In the judgment approving the NGOs’ emergency injunction, the Council for Permit Disputes stated that the environmental impact assessment, which forms the basis of Ineos’s deforestation permit, failed to sufficiently assess the full extent of the environmental and climate impacts the project will have as a whole, confirming the groups’ arguments.
Up to 167,000 tonnes of pre-production plastic pellets are estimated to leak into the environment in Europe every year, making pellets the second largest source of primary microplastic pollution.
According to Ineos’s EIA for Project One, about 90% of the ethylene production worldwide is for plastic applications. The largest derivative of ethylene is polyethylene, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the global demand for the monomer ethylene. For the by-product propylene, globally about 70 to 80% is destined for plastic applications.
Due to the scope and nature of Project One, banks and investors involved in the project require a form of financial guarantee to cover any potential risks that arise. In this case, it is believed that the Flemish government is providing a governmental guarantee of €250-500 million.
While climate risk is now under constant discussion within the ‘traditional’ fossil fuel industry, plastics executives are all too often unaware of the risks closing in on the petrochemicals sector, including increased regulation around plastic, waste and carbon emissions. ClientEarth authored a report, “Risk unwrapped”, in 2018, to demystify the issue.
A recent analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), also shows the existential risks facing Project One. The briefing questions the viability of the project by identifying a series of weak financial conditions that it faces if it were to go ahead.
Tatiana Luján is a Colombian-qualified lawyer.
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.