CCC says planning must deliver net zero – but no support for Horse Hill challenge

The government’s climate adviser has said planning policies must deliver carbon-reduction goals – but it declined to back a landmark legal challenge to how UK onshore oil production is decided.

Campaigners gathering outside Surrey County Council in advance of decision meeting on oil production at Horse Hill, 11 September 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said planning decisions should be tested against the country’s target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Launching its annual progress report , the CCC said it wanted to see strong decarbonisation, with as little fossil fuel consumption as possible.

But it did not support the case, due at the Court of Appeal in November, that planning authorities should take account of carbon emissions from the use of oil produced onshore.

Environmental campaigner, Sarah Finch, will argue that Surrey County Council should have assessed these indirect emissions when it approved plans for long-term oil production at the Horse Hill site.

If she is successful, the case could have major implications for carbon-intensive industries.

Asked by DrillOrDrop about Ms Finch’s case, the CCC’s head of carbon budgets, David Joffe, said:

“You will need to consume some fossil fuels, hopefully a rapidly shrinking amount of fossil fuels over time. So, I am a bit uncomfortable with saying planning decisions should take those things into account if fundamentally it is going to stop us being able to operate our economy in the way we need to until we can get off fossil fuels completely.”

Dr Joffe said lower UK production would increase imports, with less control over emissions.

Sarah Finch at Horse Hill oil site. Photo: Weald Action Group

Ms Finch said there was no time to waste to make planning law compliant with net zero:

“In the UK, the mismatch between climate and planning policies means that the full climate impacts of onshore oil and gas planning applications are not being assessed in the planning process.

“We saw this at Horse Hill in Surrey, where in 2019 Surrey County Council approved 20 years of oil production. This oil could produce upwards of 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases when it is burned – yet the Council argued it wasn’t required to take this into consideration in the environmental impact assessment. I am challenging that decision in the courts.”

Ms Finch added:

“We badly need clear updated energy policy and planning guidance that makes it explicit that councils have the responsibility and the authority to reject applications on climate grounds.

“And it’s not just me saying that. Surrey County Council’s own climate change strategy asks the government to make explicit that planning authorities have the right to reject planning applications where there are identifiable and material climate impacts.”

Net zero test

The CCC report called for a net zero test of all government policy to ensure it was compatible with UK climate targets.

The CCC’s chair, Lord Deben, said:

“We have really got to say that whatever we do, large or small, we have to test it against its contribution to net zero.”

The report called for reform of the planning system to deliver low-carbon and climate-resilient measures.

It said the current Planning Bill does not ensure that developments and infrastructure are compliant with Net Zero and appropriately resilient to climate change. It would be serious were this opportunity to be missed, the CCC said.

Lord Deben said:

“Unless net zero is as central to planning as the chancellor has made it to the decision-making of the Bank of England, then frankly we are not going to reach that end.”

Failure to deliver

The CCC criticised ministers for their failure to deliver on climate promises. 2020 had been “marred by uncertainty and delay to a host of new climate strategies”, it said.

“Those that have emerged have too often missed the mark. With every month of inaction, it is harder for the UK to get on track.”

The government was accused of “a high-stakes gamble” by focussing everything on a new net zero strategy in the autumn.

The report called for publication of the strategy, with clear policy plans, backed fully by the Treasury, before the COP26 climate summit, hosted by the UK in November.

It also had more than 200 recommendations for individual government departments.

It said reducing demand for fossil fuels and the emissions footprint of UK oil and gas production and processing were key to limiting the impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.

It recommended policies to reduce upstream emissions from oil and gas production by 68% by 2030, relative to 2018 levels. Flaring and venting should be permitted only for safety reasons from 2025.


Friends of the Earth’s policy head Mike Childs said:

“The committee’s criticisms are spot on. Without a detailed strategy for combatting the climate crisis, government promises to decarbonise the economy are simply more hot air. 

“The Prime Minister must urgently set out his government’s blueprint for slashing emissions in key areas such as homes and transport. With no climate action plan and his government’s support for more roads, runways and an overseas gas mega project, Boris Johnson risks being a laughing stock at the UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year. 

“The Chancellor’s role in delivering net zero is crucial – unfortunately this year’s Budget did little to demonstrate the Treasury’s enthusiasm for building back greener.

“It’s time to seize the new jobs and other opportunities that developing a green economy will bring or be left dealing with the fall-out of more floods, wildfires and droughts in a climate crisis spinning rapidly out of control.”

17 replies »

  1. “Dr. Joffe said lower UK production would increase imports, with less control over emissions.”

    Dr. Joffe is head of carbon budgets at CCC.

    So, another one who states the (correct) obvious. Like the same sort of comment after the Wressle enquiry which cost the local community £400k.

    How much more money will be wasted trying to disprove what is obvious? And, if it is also obvious to Channel 4 with respect to local lithium production, perhaps there is a consensus across the politics as well?

    • Martin, as you know, there is no way of knowing where the oil will be combusted and no requirement for it to remain in the UK. At the JR hearing, the court was told that oil from Horse Hill would probably be exported.

      • Probably would be exported, whilst oil is imported, Sarah.

        So, import less. That is where the focus should be, and to do that we would not want to compromise energy security, would we? Especially now that interconnectors have suddenly lost their gloss.

        Perhaps the oil could be transferred to the neighboring chemical plant at Fawley and turned into artificial rubber for medical use in the fight against Covid, and maybe exported in that form? How much collateral damage are you willing to accept resulting from your dogma? Or, when earthquakes strike and emergency relief requires fossil fuels to rescue people, as electricity does not fare well after natural disasters. Nah, let us not consider the downstream benefits.

        Except for you, Arthur, when you typed that out at 10.49am! Utilizing the downstream benefits. I think you will find the majority of people are not getting into what you suggest, even though you used fossil fuels to suggest they were. But, I do have a heat pump. Great piece of kit, but then I use oil and gas as well, and whilst I do that, I prefer it is local and well “reared”. For the junk food/energy zealots, they can argue they are not consuming either, even when they clearly are. (I tried two hybrids-they were both useless bits of kit, so will not try again for a long time.)

  2. Why are we still dragging this toxic liquid up, solar / electric / heat pumps / wind power, tidal energy, EVs etc are what people are getting into now.

  3. “How much collateral damage are you willing to accept resulting from your dogma?” was a question for Sarah. It is of course a question that Martin himself might answer. A suggested answer – an unlimited amount but first of all, we’ll export it to those parts of the planet that can’t fight back.

  4. You mean we will export that grain to areas of the world to help feed the starving? Oh no, we can’t do that because the red diesel used to produce it and the oil to dry it and the ships to deliver it have all been stopped due to downstream emissions!

    When you can answer what transfer means, 1720, then I might take your own questions seriously. But, as you can’t, and you haven’t, I see no need for anything more than the above. (Although, are you suggesting that ventilators are not accepted with open arms by parts of the planet? Or, diesel generators to help emergency hospitals to be set up? Or, search and rescue teams flown in?)

  5. Not at all, Martin. I am suggesting that your own answer to the question you insultingly asked Sarah might be along the lines of what I put forward. Nice attempt to deflect, but it won’t wash.

  6. Fossil fuel use has already changed the climate, which has meant increasingly destructive hurricanes, drought, unprecedented levels of forest fires, famine and we are only just past 1 degree of warming, with much more coming because fossil fuel states keep planning for more and more extraction, when they should have spent the last 30 years transitioning to renewables.

    The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists who warn it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years.

    Meanwhile fossil fuel cheerleader Martin Frederick Collyer’s concern is about the potential damage caused by considering emissions “when earthquakes strike and emergency relief requires fossil fuels to rescue people”

    Do you take us all for fools Martin? Far and away the most common cause of anthropogenic earthquakes is…..the fossil fuel industry.

    • But Dorkonian , we don’t need animals, they produce methane so let’s kill them all off except guide dogs and then we cut emissions enough to be able to drain the whole planet of oil , what do you think Martin F.C ?

  7. Well, I think Jono that there are a few who have problems with any coherent alternatives, so just attack the use of the material they use to make the attack. I think that is called irony. Or, travel “significant distances” to demonstrate-what? That they did not know what they were demonstrating about-by their own admission! But, wouldn’t prefer to do their travelling by HS2, yet try and pontificate about climate change!

    And some need some education regarding earthquakes. The data is there-they could look at the ones recorded every year in UK for a start. (Around 300/year.) It is not my job to educate, I will just point out when those who like to make uneducated statements make them, knowing that the uneducated statements will continue to be made. They do a great job to define the antis. It would be remiss not to point out what they are defining.

    Dr. Joffe obviously not to the liking of a few, although they are unable to counter the point with anything that adds up. Even transfer of production remains beyond comprehension, and that one really is as basic as you could want, even known about by all youngsters who play their fantasy football.

    If you need another example of the nonsense behind this particular proposition- if the oil from HH was all exported, then who is to say it would not be exported to be manufactured into some of the very high proportion of diesel that is imported by UK, (over 50% pre pandemic) and then came back in that form? In terms of downstream emissions the total would likely be less than if the oil was extracted somewhere over the horizon and entered into the same supply chain. Maybe if Fawley Refinery goes ahead with the previous plans to expand diesel production then the issue would be removed-and, then Sarah could support that development as it would reduce the downstream emissions within that supply chain, and you could help crowd fund that, also!

    But, there you go. No need to look too far to find that dogma is used to prevent progress. Of course, someone else has to be blamed. But I see no signs of crowd funding to repay the locals around Wressle for the £400k, no signs of crowd funding to repay the people of N.Ireland for the nonsense that was cash for ash, and the subsequent cost of that to that community, and no signs of crowd funding for those who were persuaded it was saving the planet by leasing their roofs to solar panel companies, and now can’t sell their homes. And there are more. Nope, that is down to the tax payer to fund whilst the rinse and repeaters move on to the next “host”. Not new within the animal kingdom, so there are treatments available. Mine is branded “common sense”, and I recommend it.

  8. “No need to look too far to find that dogma is used to prevent progress”. Of course you are right, Martin. Take, again, your own dogma – (another of your favourite words, I see.) Your own beliefs when translated into action – a process described almost daily in reports of the activities of polluters on DoD – do impede progress towards a safer planet, one not at the mercy of the fossil fuel giants and their faithful mouthpieces. But we have different concepts of progress, don’t we, Martin?
    You’re slipping again, by the way. ‘Nope’ in the pre-penultimate line. (‘Nah’, elsewhere, is not much better.) “It’s not my job…” onwards in the second paragraph is incomprehensible without a correction of your punctuation. Just as well that it’s not your job to educate, as you point out. And no, what you suggest is not an example of irony: that would have to be deliberate on the part of the perpetrator. Were your example valid, it might be deemed ‘ironic’ in the reader’s eyes.
    However, you have at last stopped ‘shouting’ with your capitals: just as well as you criticize others for shouting.
    I really don’t think any further rebuttal of your peculiar version of my beliefs is necessary. Just try and understand them, and take a little more time to think out what you are trying to say and whether you can justify it.
    By the way, is ‘climate change’, which I see you now refer to, anthropogenic or not? We know that you disapprove of the scientists’ solutions and advice. Is this because you think that global overheating would be happening regardless of any human contribution?

  9. Ahh, the 11.26pm post, demonstrating the inability to even make use of daylight!

    So, an excessive energy user, typing away on plastic in the middle of the night, demonstrating a total disregard for climate change by their actions.

    Human contribution? Hmm. Yes, those who could make use of daylight but chose not to, those who could avoid consuming fossil fuel but chose not to. Meanwhile, if you check the science you will see that humans pollute by living. Maybe they shouldn’t?

    And, no “we” know nothing of the sort. The “we”-the refuge of the individual who needs help- have quite clearly seen the scientific advice I follow. We have debated it on this site. There are a lot of scientists, 1720, some even contradict each other. The one’s in France are pretty convinced that the TGV reduces pollution compared to the alternatives, but 1720 knows better! Well, I have made use of the TGV and internal flights in France, so I know who I would believe. But, some will need to defend the indefensible otherwise they will run out of things to protest about, and yet talk about progress.

  10. Deflection again!
    I repeat my last paragraph – “By the way, is ‘climate change’, which I see you now refer to, anthropogenic or not? We know that you disapprove of the scientists’ solutions and advice. Is this because you think that global overheating would be happening regardless of any human contribution?”
    We need to know, Martin, before we begin to contemplate whether it’s worthwhile even engaging with you on some of the, but not the irrelevant gobbledygook you are continuing to churn out. After all, as you point out with constant reference to the timing of my posts,, engaging with you takes quite a lot of valuable time which might be more productively spent on those who at least acknowledge the beliefs that inspire them and who might just be open to alternative beliefs.
    (Don’t let the following points distract you from your answer: – It’s daylight, by the way, at nearly five to eight in the morning. I know that’s important for you. I’m still against HS2, have answered your points on the LGV system, and I use plastic keyboards until ingenuity and funding produces an alternative. I hope for better recycling facilities. I respect science and scientists when it is clear they are not funded by the polluters. To pinch Rafael Behr’s point in yesterday’s Guardian, I respect in science “its duty to truth”. Again, to use Behr, you seem to have “a relationship with facts, but it is not monogamous”.)

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