Greenpeace loses legal challenge to UK’s new North Sea oil and gas licences

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s decision to authorise new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea was lawful, London’s High Court ruled on Thursday, dismissing a legal challenge by Greenpeace.

The environmental campaign group had argued Britain’s failure to assess the greenhouse gases produced by consuming oil and gas – so-called end-use or downstream emissions – rendered its offshore energy plan unlawful.

But lawyers representing Britain’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said at a hearing in July that ministers were not required to assess end-use emissions, though they nonetheless considered them.

Judge David Holgate rejected Greenpeace’s case on Thursday, saying in a written ruling that the decision not to assess end-use emissions was not irrational.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson welcomed the decision.

“The industry is critical to strengthening our energy security – unlocking new technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen opportunities – and will reduce our reliance on imports while supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and growing the economy,” they said in a statement.

Greenpeace said it planned to appeal the ruling.

“If you told most people that the government is allowed to approve new oil and gas while ignoring 80% of the emissions it would produce, they simply wouldn’t believe you,” Philip Evans, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said.

“This is completely irresponsible behaviour from ministers during a climate crisis.”

Last year, Britain held its first oil and gas exploration licensing round since 2019, aiming to boost domestic hydrocarbon output as Europe weans itself off Russian fuel.

Britain says domestic oil and gas production is key to its plan to improve energy security and that doing so is consistent with its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

However, environmental campaigners argue further domestic production will contribute to climate change and fail to lower British households’ energy bills.

Tessa Khan, Executive Director of campaign group Uplift, which was also involved in the case, said: “There is no public benefit from new licensing, only more profit for oil and gas companies.”

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by William James and Tomasz Janowski)