Court of Appeal to hear legal challenge against UK funding for Mozambique gas mega-project

The Court of Appeal will examine the UK government's decision to fund the Mozambique liquified natural gas (LNG) project this week.
  Published:  06 Dec 2022    |      3 minute read

A legal challenge will be heard at the Court of Appeal today over the UK government’s decision to approve $1.15 billion of financing for a gas mega-project in Mozambique.

It comes after the judicial review, brought by Friends of the Earth, ended up in legal deadlock last December, when two High Court judges disagreed on the verdict and a split decision meant the case was dismissed so it could be heard again in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal judges will now examine the government’s decision to fund the Mozambique liquified natural gas (LNG) project through its export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF).

Friends of the Earth will argue that financing for the project was permitted after it was incorrectly judged to be compatible with the Paris Agreement and its goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The total emissions for the new gas field, which research by the environmental group finds would total some 4.5bn tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime - more than the combined annual emissions of all 27 EU countries, were not calculated as part of the government’s approval process or evaluated against global climate goals.

This, alongside a clear contradiction of the UK’s obligation to help other countries meet their own targets to cut emissions, is why Friends of the Earth believes the decision to be unlawful.

Friends of the Earth’s head of legal, Will Rundle, said:

“UKEF not only helped finance the project but it failed to measure all the emissions it would produce – misleading ministers about the scale of its impact. This is a complete failure of credible governance and morally unacceptable in a climate crisis.

“Climate assessments for fossil fuel projects must measure all the emissions, period. We need to understand the climate impacts of spending taxpayers' money, so we can decline carbon intensive investments like this and fund renewable energy projects instead.”

The hearing in the Court of Appeal, comes after COP27, where little progress was made in phasing out coal, oil, and gas, and securing the action needed to avert catastrophic global warming.

The gas project is project is already impacting communities in Cabo Delgado. People who once made a living from farming and fishing have lost their land and livelihoods. More than a million people have been forced to flee the area where gas was discovered in the last five years, due to conflict and insecurity.

Daniel Ribeiro, campaigner at Justice Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique), said:

"This appeal is a chance for the UK to show that it can uphold climate justice rather than just paying it lip service.

"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."

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

“Gas has never been a sustainable energy model and has wreaked havoc on many developing countries.

“A renewable development pathway is not only desired but possible, the UK must withdraw its support from Mozambique LNG.

“The repercussions of the project will be global and it’s communities like those in Cabo Delgado that are unfairly paying the highest price for climate breakdown.”

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

“At the heart of this appeal is a fundamental question of climate change law: is it lawful for the UK government to conclude that financing fossil fuel projects abroad, which will lead to an increase in emissions, compatible with the Paris Agreement?

“The Court of Appeal’s answer is likely to be a defining moment in climate change litigation.

“Friends of the Earth is clear: without calculating the amount of carbon emissions arising from the use of liquid natural gas extracted from Mozambique, the manner in which the UK government approved the financing was unlawful. We look forward to making those arguments in Court this week.”

The appeal decision is expected by early 2023.

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 campaigners and spokespeople are available for interview
  3. A Friends of the Earth briefing on the Mozambique LNG project from December 2021 can be viewed here .
  4. 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 .
  5. A 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 .