Environmental activists will ask the High Court this week to declare the government’s fossil fuel strategy illegal, in a case that could undermine the UK’s claim to lead the fight against climate change.
Campaigners will argue that the government is effectively subsidizing oil and gas production with billions of pounds to distribute, which runs counter to its legal obligation to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Lobbyist group Paid to Pollute claims oil and gas companies received billions of pounds in tax breaks for new oil and gas exploration, and billions more for decommissioning costs between 2016 and 2020. The group claims that this amounts to fossil fuel subsidies.
“Public money supports businesses that are contributing to the climate crisis instead of solving it,” said Kairin van Sweeden, one of three activists who will appear in court. “We need to question this lethal use of public money. If the Oil and Gas Authority doesn’t use common sense, it might listen to the courts. “
The hearing comes as controversy mounts over attempts by the UK oil and gas industry to gain approval for more than a dozen new programs, even as scientists say new investments in oil projects and gas companies must stop if governments are to tackle the climate crisis.
Earlier this year, John Gummer, Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, told MSPs at Holyrood that “the rationale for any further exploration or production of oil and gas has to be very, very, very strong and I cannot to say that I have seen this evidence so far ”.
Last week, one of the most controversial projects, the Cambo oil field off the Shetlands, was scrapped by Shell, casting doubt on the future of oil exploration in the region. Climate activists hailed this as the beginning of the end for the North Sea industry. Greenpeace said Cambo’s damage would have been the equivalent of running 18 coal-fired power plants for a year.
“It is essential that the UK show leadership and show how countries can move away from oil and gas while retraining workers and creating thousands of well-paying jobs,” said another advocate, Mikaela Loach. . “It all starts when the government ends the millions it gives to the big polluters. “
This view was supported by Jeremy Cox, a former oil refinery worker and the third plaintiff in action. “Using public money to subsidize continued mining and support a declining industry is the exact opposite of what this government should be doing. “
A government spokesperson said the UK had paid no fossil fuel subsidies: “No other major oil and gas producing country has gone as far as the UK to support the gradual transition sector towards a low carbon future, as evidenced by our North Sea. transition agreement.
“As we support the UK’s transition to green energy, the need for oil and gas will be continuous but diminishing over the next few years, as recognized by the Independent Committee on Climate Change. “