Andy Meyer

The UK still needs fossil fuels, whether activists like it or not

Credit: Getty Images

The Supreme Court is hearing a case today that, if successful, could mean the end of new fossil fuel projects in the UK on climate grounds

The justices will decide whether to reverse approval for oil extraction at Horse Hill based on downstream emissions from the use of the oil. Whatever the outcome, this case is a damning indictment of the UK’s absurd climate laws. 

This is a long-running affair. Horse Hill was first test drilled in 2012 and permitted by Surrey County Council to expand to a commercial scale in 2019. This is the teeth of opposition from local campaigners, including the Weald Action Group, Friends of the Earth, and the litigant Sarah Finch. 

The activists want to stop all domestic fossil fuel production, regardless of the harm this would do to our energy security and bills. To achieve this goal, they have been using judicial review, rooted in their interpretation of the Climate Act and a raft of complex planning, permitting and environmental protection laws, to delay and obstruct developments. They have been appealing and escalating at every turn. Consequently, four years into what should be a simple planning matter – to allow a legal business to expand – the case reaches the Supreme Court. No wonder the UK’s economic growth is anaemic. 

The central legal point is whether Surrey County Council should have required the developer to report consumption (or Scope 3) emissions and test them against a retained EU Directive and the UK’s climate commitments. But this outcome would be absurd. Holding a producer to account for the downstream climate impact makes no sense. 

In the first instance, an oil producer cannot accurately predict the future emissions profile of their product, which could be used anywhere in the world. It is highly dependent on ever-changing use cases and the pace of technological development (e.g.

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