Legal

Judges dismiss challenge to $1.15bn UK investment in Mozambique gas scheme

The Court of Appeal has rejected a legal challenge to UK government investment of $1.15bn in a liquified natural gas project in Mozambique.

Friends of the Earth campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice for the initial hearing in March 2022.
Photo: Friends of the Earth

The case, brought by Friends of the Earth, was dismissed in a written ruling today.

Friends of the Earth described the decision as “very disappointing” and said it was considering an appeal.

The Mozambique funding was one of the largest single financing packages ever offered by the government’s export credit agency, UKEF, to a foreign fossil fuel project.

The project involved deep-water gas production about 50km off the coast of northern Mozambique, along with onshore gas processing facilities.

It had been estimated that the total lifetime emissions for the new gas field, to be operated by Total, would be 4.5bn tonnes of greenhouse gases. This is more than the combined annual emissions of all 27 EU countries.

The investment was approved in June 2020 by the then international trade secretary, Liz Truss, and the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak. It was opposed on environmental grounds by the then business and foreign secretaries (Alok Sharma and Dominic Raab).

Six months later, in December 2020, the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the UK would end direct government support for overseas fossil fuel projects.

Friends of the Earth argued in court that investing in the project was not compatible with UK obligations under the Paris climate agreement, which sought to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

The organisation also said UKEF should have calculated the the carbon emissions that would result from burning gas produced by the project, known as scope 3 emissions. These emissions should have been evaluated against available carbon budgets and global climate goals, it said.

The government argued that the Paris Agreement had not been incorporated into UK law. It also said the Mozambique project would be “economically transformative” for the country. It would help Mozambique to alleviate poverty, improve food security, invest in green energy and become more resilient to climate change.

When the case was heard at the High Court, one judge supported the Friends of the Earth case, while the other dismissed it. Details

The appeal court judges said today the Paris Agreement did not give rise to domestic legal obligations. Their ruling said:

“The court cannot and should not second guess the executive’s decision-making in the international law arena where there is no domestic legal precedent or guidance”.

The ruling also rejected the argument that it was irrational “to take the funding decision without quantifying the Scope 3 emissions”. The ruling said:

“The project was going ahead whether or not UKEF contributed to its financing. The decision was, therefore, not one that could have reduced or avoid the project’s scope 3 emissions.”

Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner, Rachel Kennerley, said:

“This extremely disappointing judgment doesn’t alter our firm belief that the UK government should not be supporting the Mozambique gas project, or any fossil fuel project at home or abroad.

“The climate crisis is intensifying with record-breaking heat waves and devastating floods and droughts, and countries like Mozambique are at the forefront of these impacts.

“The UK government should be helping poorer nations develop their huge renewable energy potential, not backing a massive gas development that’s fuelling violence and instability and will inevitably intensify the climate emergency we are in.

“We urge the government to end its support for this development. Rishi Sunak wants the UK to be seen as a world leader in fighting the climate crisis, but support for the gas development in Mozambique, and new coal and oil extraction at home, is completely undermining this.”

Daniel Ribeiro, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Mozambique, said:

“Today’s ruling is bad news for the people of Mozambique impacted by this project and everyone globally suffering climate impacts.

“It’s time to end the UK government’s bankrolling of destructive, colonial fossil fuel extractivism overseas and perpetuating decades of human rights and environmental abuses in countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis.”

3 replies »

  1. Do FOE ever win anything, or is their objective to raise funds on behalf of the legal profession? What a waste of money.

    Meanwhile, LNG currently being shipped from Mozambique to Europe. Renewable energy in Mozambique can not be shipped anywhere, so how would the poor in Mozambique benefit? Just maybe income from exporting something they have in abundance may help them get things they do not have in abundance, like food, medical care and education-and, with what may be left over, some renewable energy for when the abundance depletes.

  2. Fossil Fuels are Finished?? Please ask the Poor, Starving and Hungry in Mozambique!! Oh Wokeness has no boundaries!!

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