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Horse Hill Supreme Court victory

Fantastic news today, 20th June 2024. The UK Supreme Court has set a historical precedent, in overturning a previous ruling, considering the legality of approving a new oil site in Surrey.

The ground breaking decision stating that 'downstream' emissions (those released when a product is used) must be factored into decisions on whether to approve or reject planning applications for projects to extract those fossil fuels. It was a contentious decision within the Supreme Court with a 3-2 decision amongst the judges presiding over the case.

Not only will this decision stop this oil drilling from going ahead, it also sets a precedent against all UK fossil fuel extraction!

Consequently this decision should have a big impact on the upcoming West Cumbria coal mine legal challenge in the Court of Appeal 16th to 18th July.

There are 5 unique grounds that South Lakes Action on Climate Change and Friends of the Earth are appealing the decision to approve a 2.8 million tonnes a year coal mine to operate until 2049.

The reasoning for the decision against the Horse Hill project should directly impact two of these grounds against the approval of the West Cumbria coal mine. If the Court of Appeal agrees with any one ground, then the current planning permission will be overturned and the next Government will have to decided afresh whether to allow coal mining in Cumbria.

The Judges were clear in their ruling, “The whole purpose of extracting fossil fuels is to make hydrocarbons available for combustion. It can therefore be said with virtual certainty that, once oil has been extracted from the ground, the carbon contained within it will sooner or later be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and so will contribute to global warming. This is true even if only the net increase in greenhouse gas emissions is considered. Leaving oil in the ground in one place does not result in a corresponding increase in production elsewhere

The grounds in the West Cumbria coal mine legal challenge this new decision impacts challenges are:

1) errors of law concerning whether ‘downstream emissions’ caused by the coking coal were indirect significant environment effects of the proposal.

2) error of law and/ or failure to give understandable reasons concerning substitution.

Cornerstone Barristers who acted on behalf of Sarah Finch and the Weald Action Group said, "the Court noted that the direct GHG emissions over the lifetime of the project had been described as having a “negligible” effect on the climate. By contrast, the Court considered that the downstream GHG emissions (which would have been nearly two orders of magnitude greater), “could not have been dismissed as “negligible” in that way” (§82)."

The Horse Hill oil well was expected to release over 10 million tonnes of CO2. The coal proposal at West Cumbria was expected to release slightly less than that each year. West Cumbria Mining Ltd who are behind the proposed mine, claim the mine would be net zero, by paying for carbon offsetting.

To divorce the production and supply of fossil fuels from the emissions of their use is a dangerous fiction. At Coal Action Network, we know the simple truth that when fossil fuels are extracted they are used. We also know that abundance and reliability of supply encourages reliance and discourages investment in alternatives.

Five political parties have ruled out new coal extraction ahead of the election. It's clear to the majority of the UK's political leaders that limiting the supply of fossil fuels is vital to reduce their use, and they're pledging to take action on that. With the ruling in the courts today reinforcing that message. It is obvious to most people - fossil fuel producers have responsibility for the climate catastrophe created by their consumption. It's time to put to bed the absurdity of a 'climate neutral', or even 'climate-negative', coal mine as the proposed Whitehaven coal mine pretends to be.

Where do your election candidates stand on Whitehaven and coal mining in the UK?

Published: 20. 06. 2024

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