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Mozambique gas project: High Court to hear application for legal challenge over UK government financial support

news release
  • Burning gas from plant each year could equal climate-wrecking emissions from EU aviation sector 

The High Court will today (Wednesday 21 April) hear Friends of the Earth’s application for permission for a judicial review of the UK government’s controversial decision to provide huge financial support to a massive liquified natural gas (LNG) development in Mozambique. 

Friends of the Earth wants the court to examine the decision of the UK government’s export credit agency (and approved by both the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Treasury) to see whether providing around $1 billion of UK taxpayer support to a massive new gas plant was compliant with its obligations under the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. 

The decision amounts to one of the largest single financing packages ever offered by the UK export credit agency to a foreign fossil fuel project.

The construction phase alone will increase the greenhouse gas emissions of Mozambique by up to 10% by 2022. There will be even larger emissions from the end use/burning of the gas, estimated to be around 116MtCO2e per year: equivalent to the total emissions from the aviation sector for all EU member states combined. Yet these emissions have not been taken into account. 

The development of the gas industry is also believed to be a contributing factor fuelling violence, deaths and displacement in Mozambique. Earlier this month Friends of the Earth wrote to the government asking it to withdraw its decision to provide financial support to the gas project because of its contribution to the ongoing violence in the region. 

In March this year, just months after making the decision to support the gas project, the UK government passed a new policy that would prohibit it funding such a scheme in future on climate grounds. Friends of the Earth says the government should have taken the opportunity to revoke its support for the Mozambique gas project – especially in a year when its climate record will be under global examination as hosts of the UN climate talks in November. 

Friends of the Earth will make an oral application for a judicial review in today’s hearing. If successful a full trial is expected to take place later this year. Earlier this year a written application for a judicial review was rejected. The grounds of Friends of the Earth’s challenge are that: 

•  the decision was made on the incorrect basis that the project was consistent with the UK and/or Mozambique’s commitments under the Paris Agreement
•  the defendants failed to consider essential issues or carry out the necessary analysis to properly determine if supporting the project aligned with the UK’s and Mozambique’s obligations under the Paris Agreement;
•  the decision was unreasonable (and therefore substantively unlawful), because of major impacts on climate change, biodiversity and human rights which the defendants failed to adequately investigate and consider. 

In defending the claim, the UK government has sought to row back on its commitments under the Paris Agreement, and has even attempted to argue that two highly important reports that mapped progress towards the Paris temperature goals, the UN’s Emissions and Production Gap reports, were not legally relevant to the decision. 

Will Rundle, Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth said: 

“This huge gas project will fuel the climate emergency and deal yet another devastating blow to the UK government’s credibility as it prepares to host this year’s crucial climate talks.

“Ministers know they shouldn’t be backing climate-wrecking schemes like this during a climate emergency. That’s why it introduced new rules last month preventing UK government support for overseas fossil fuel developments. 

“On top of its enormous climate impact, gas development in Mozambique is also a significant factor in the horrific violence the country is currently experiencing. 

“We strongly believe that UK financial support for this project is not only wrong, it’s also unlawful.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“Our client Friends of the Earth will argue in court that, not only is the government’s stance on this issue completely at odds with its climate change goals, which require the UK to drastically and rapidly divest from fossil fuel infrastructure, it is also unlawful.

“The court will now examine whether the government, in breach of its own policy to assess the environmental impact of its overseas investment decisions, failed to lawfully take the Paris Agreement into account when agreeing to fund this project.”

ENDS

For more information and interview requests contact the Friends of the Earth press office on 020 7566 1649 / 07718 394786 (out of hours – please do not text this number) or by emailing media@foe.co.uk

Notes to editors:

1. The legal challenge is brought by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The judge and barristers will attend the Royal Courts of Justice. Anyone else wishing to view proceedings will have to do so remotely. Please contact the court directly to request access to the hearing by emailing: listoffice@administrativecourtoffice.justice.gov.uk and quote the court ref = CO/3206/2020. People must also follow these rules for attending the hearing (including stay on mute, turn video off and don’t record any of the hearing (either audio or visuals)). Timings have yet to be announced.

2. A Friends of the Earth briefing on the Mozambique gas plant legal challenge is here: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/system-change/climate-litigation-briefing-friends-earth-vs-uk-export-finance

3. UK support for Mozambique gas plant fuelling conflict – Friends of the Earth | Guardian [15 April 2021]

4. The Friends of the Earth legal team consists of: Jessica Simor QC, Kate Cook, Anita Davies (all of Matrix Chambers), Leigh Day LLP and its own inhouse legal specialists. 

5. About Friends of the Earth: Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/ follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page

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