Mozambique gas project: Friends of the Earth asks for oral court hearing over government support

Review sought over government decision to provide around $1 billion of UK taxpayer support for controversial project.
  Published:  22 Mar 2021    |      3 minute read

Friends of the Earth is to go to the High Court for an Oral Hearing over its application for a Judicial Review [JR] of the government’s huge financial support for a massive climate-wrecking liquified natural gas (LNG) development in Mozambique. The project is located in an area experiencing escalating violence.

The move comes after the High Court last week initially rejected Friends of the Earth’s written application to review the government’s decision to provide around $1 billion of UK taxpayer support for the hugely controversial project.

Judicial rules allow applicants to further make their case for a JR to be approved for full trial at an Oral Hearing at the High Court. If validated by a High Court judge, the alleged illegalities in the government’s conduct will then go to a full trial later in the year.

Friends of the Earth wants the High Court to examine the decision of the UK’s export credit agency – part of the Department of International Trade – and whether providing finance to a massive new gas plant was compliant with UK obligations under the UN Paris Agreement on climate change. Particularly as the world remains on course for devastating climate breakdown due to persisting levels of climate-wrecking emissions.

The potential climate impacts of this project are disastrous. 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 when at full capacity: equivalent to the total emissions from the aviation sector for all EU member states combined.

To make matters worse, communities along Mozambique’s gas rich coast are already losing their homes, farmland and fisheries to make way for this damaging development. The development of the gas industry is believed to be a main factor fuelling violence, deaths and further displacement.

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

“We believe there’s a strong case for a Judicial Review of the UK government’s decision to provide financial support for this climate-wrecking gas project, which is why we are asking for an oral hearing so we can explain that fully.

“It’s astounding that a UK government due to host a crucial climate summit later this year is providing so much taxpayer financial support for a climate-wrecking gas project in Mozambique.

“Funding this gas mega-project is not only hypocritical of ministers who have pledged to show global leadership on the climate crisis, we believe it is unlawful too.

“We should be using UK finance and influence to help nations fight the climate emergency, not fuel it. The UK is one of the largest historical contributors to the climate crisis already.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“The Secretary of State for International Trade has attempted to knock-out this legal challenge by arguing that it amounts to an impermissible attack on compliance with international law, whereas the true position is that our client is simply demanding that the UK government follow its own policy. That policy states funding for these sorts of projects should be refused if it does not align with international obligations. The Court will now have a further opportunity to scrutinise whether that policy has been breached by a failure to lawfully take the Paris Agreement into account.”

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; December 2020
  • the decision was unreasonable (and therefore substantively unlawful), because of major impacts on climate change, biodiversity and human rights, and that the defendants failed to adequately investigate and consider them.

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Notes to editors:

1. The legal challenge is brought by Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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. 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.