Climate: UK government taken to court over Mozambique gas project

Decision to approve £850 million of financing to be examined at a Judicial Review
  Published:  07 Dec 2021    |      4 minute read
  • Decision to approve $1.15bn (approx. £850 million) of financing for the Mozambique liquified natural gas (LNG) project to be examined at a Judicial Review
  • Case will be heard at the High Court from 7th – 9th December 2021
  • Friends of the Earth challenges the decision on the grounds that the project was wrongly deemed compatible with the Paris Agreement

A legal challenge will be heard at the High Court today, Tuesday 7th December 2021, over the UK government’s decision to pledge over $1bn to a climate-wrecking gas mega-project in Mozambique.

The case, brought to Judicial Review by the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, will examine the government’s decision to grant funding for the project through its export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), as approved by the Treasury. The challenge is being heard on the grounds that financing for the Mozambique LNG project was permitted after it was incorrectly judged to be compatible with the Paris Agreement. Friends of the Earth says this decision was reached without proper assessment of the development’s climate impacts against the international treaty’s terms.

A recent Friends of the Earth report found that this development could emit up to 4.5bn tonnes of climate-wrecking greenhouse gases over its lifetime, more than the combined annual emissions of all 27 EU countries. Estimates suggest the construction phase of this project alone would increase Mozambique’s emissions by up to 10% by 2022.

However, the total emissions for the new gas field were not calculated as part of the government’s approval process, nor were they evaluated against ambitions to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees as set out in the Paris Agreement. This, alongside a clear contradiction of the UK’s obligation to help other countries meet their own climate targets, is why Friends of the Earth deems the decision to be unlawful. These and other errors in the decision will be set out in court.

In March 2021, the UK government ended direct overseas investment in destructive fossil fuel projects citing its ambition to drive down emissions. Yet the funding pledged to the Mozambique LNG project, one of UKEF’s largest ever financial packages, was not withdrawn in line with this new policy direction.

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. Due to its susceptibility to multiple climate hazards including tropical cyclones, floods and severe droughts, it is also considered one of the most climate vulnerable. An August 2021 report by UNICEF ranked Mozambique tenth in the world for countries where children are most at risk from the impacts of climate change.

The discovery of natural gas in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique in the last decade has not only exacerbated climate breakdown, but has also fuelled conflict, human rights abuses and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who have lost homes, livelihoods and their communities.

Friends of the Earth hopes the court will rule in its favour by declaring the decision to finance the Mozambique LNG project unlawful, and quashing it, resulting in the withdrawal of funding. Such a ruling could have international implications, and may influence other export credit agencies involved in the project.

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

“In the few weeks between the end of the UN climate talks and this legal hearing, ministers have pledged they’ll press other countries to meet their climate targets. But in propping up this massively destructive development, the government hampers not only the UK’s own chances of curbing climate breakdown, but also global targets to confront it, while pushing Mozambique to the brink of climate disaster.

“It’s only right the door’s blown wide open on this dirty investment. The UK needs to recognise its historic contribution to the crisis we’re now in by helping countries on the frontline, like Mozambique, make that all-important transition to renewable energy for all. By ending its support for all fossil fuels, including gas, the government can be known for something other than climate hypocrisy.”

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The UK has poured an eye-watering amount of taxpayer money into developing a huge new gas field in Mozambique right in the middle of a climate emergency, with little regard for the true cost to people and planet.

“Astonishingly, the government has justified this move because it says it’s in line with the Paris Agreement. But on building this case, we have learned that essential information was not considered that puts this devastating project at odds with international climate targets. To make matters worse, the development’s total emissions were never assessed against global ambitions to limit heating to 1.5 degrees.

“Because of this failure of leadership, people all over the world, and especially those in Mozambique, have been gravely let down by a decision that puts us all at risk. We hope the court agrees that these failures, among others, are not only morally indefensible but also illegal.”

Anabela Lemos, Director of Justiça Ambiental (JA! also know as Friends of the Earth Mozambique):

“This judicial review is crucial for the future of fossil fuel financing by the UK government. If the courts allow UKEF to finance the Mozambique gas industry, then the country will be complicit in human rights violations, displacement of communities, climate destruction and the fuelling of a devastating conflict. This is the time for the UK to put its money where its mouth is, and show that it is truly committed to protecting the climate and the people of the global south who are most affected."

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, who represents Friends of the Earth, said:

“Policy makers are now clear: any new investment in fossil fuel extraction is inconsistent with the low emissions pathway under the Paris Agreement. This project was never compatible with the Paris Agreement on the basis of the evidence taken into account, and the UK was not – our clients will argue – legally permitted to conclude otherwise. Yet it is impossible to imagine in political terms how the UK could, if it attempted to do so today, approve this project in light of the Glasgow Declaration.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. 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 in-house legal specialists.
  2. Friends of the Earth’s briefing on the Mozambique LNG project can be viewed here.
  3. A blog outlining the impacts of the Mozambique LNG project on communities in Mozambique, written by Anabela Lemos, Director of Justiça Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique), can be viewed here.
  4. Last month a new report by Friends of the Earth and the New Economics Foundation revealed that fossil fuel companies are planning to seek approval for 40 damaging new coal, oil and gas extraction projects in the UK by 2025. The full report can be viewed here.