Wednesday, September 27, 2023

UK planning authorities do not adequately consider the full climate impact of proposed fossil fuel projects when granting planning permissions

UK planning authorities do not adequately consider the full climate impact of proposed fossil fuel projects when granting planning permission. Currently, authorities only consider the climate impact of the extraction process, rather than the emissions that occur when fossil fuels are burned. This loss is significant, as most emissions are generated during combustion.

This failure to consider downstream emissions in environmental impact assessments has come under recent scrutiny by the Supreme Court. Sarah Finch, who challenged Surrey County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for oil drilling at Horse Hill, argued that subsequent emissions should be taken into account. The UK government is defending approval of the project and a decision is expected to be made later this year.

If the appeal is successful, there could be far-reaching consequences for all new fossil fuel developments in the UK, both on land and at sea. Ms Finch stressed that the climate impact of a fossil fuel project must be fully assessed before permission is granted. He argues that it is a scandal that the emissions resulting from the burning of fuel are not taken into account in the decision-making processes.

This problem of ignoring subsequent emissions can also be seen in the case of the controversial new coal mine planned for Cumbria, which was approved by the government last year. Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change challenged this decision in court. The High Court agreed to schedule a hearing but will await the outcome of Horse Hill’s legal challenge before setting a date. So Sarah Finch’s case is very important in shaping the way to consider the climate impacts of fossil fuel projects in planning permits.

Friends of the Earth, along with ClientEarth and the Good Law Project, are taking legal action against the UK government over its plans to tackle climate change and meet carbon emissions targets. They argued that the government’s plans were inadequate and inconsistent with the country’s legal commitments.

In conclusion, it is essential that UK planning authorities assess the full climate impact of proposed fossil fuel projects before granting permission. Simply considering the process of capturing and removing emissions resulting from burning fuel is not enough. The outcomes of ongoing legal challenges, such as Sarah Finch’s appeal and the case against the Cumbria coal mine, will be critical in determining the future approach to these considerations.


– Subsequent emissions: Emissions produced when fossil fuels are burned.
– Scope 3 emissions: Greenhouse gas emissions produced throughout the life cycle of a product, including extraction, production and consumption.

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