Campaigners hope precedent set by high profile Heathrow ruling could force government into a rethink over continued support for new fossil fuel projects
Campaigners have launched a legal challenge against the government's energy policy planning regime, arguing that it fails to adequately account for the UK's obligations under the Paris Agreement.
In a move that aims to draw on the precedent established by the recent High Court ruling that the government's approval for Heathrow expansion failed to adequately take the UK's climate goals into account, the group is seeking a judicial review into the government's failure to update the National Policy Statement for Energy (NPS).
The NPS was originally established in 2011 and set out guidelines that require planning officials to favour new fossil fuel power plants to help guard against supply risks.
In March, the Good Law Project wrote to the Treasury to argue that the NPS had become outdated as a result of the UK's signing of the Paris Agreement and new net zero targets and as such an update to the planning policy guidance was required.
Writing at the time, campaigner and journalist George Monbiot, who is supporting the legal action alongside Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, said that the NPS was enabling new fossil fuel infrastructure development.
"It's hard to see how the government could resist our case," Monbiot said. "The Heathrow judgment hung on the government's national policy statement on airports. This, the judges found, had not been updated to take account of the Paris climate agreement. New fossil fuel plants, such as the gas burners at Drax in Yorkshire the government approved last October, are enabled by something very similar: the national policy statements on energy infrastructure. These have not been updated since they were published in 2011. As a result, they take no account of the Paris agreement, of the government's new climate target (net zero by 2050, as opposed to an 80 per cent cut) or of parliament's declaration of a climate emergency."
The government reportedly delayed the publication of its new National Infrastructure Strategy in the wake of the Heathrow ruling to ensure the new plans were compatible with the Paris Agreement, , amidst concerns in Whitehall that the High Court's decision would trigger a raft of similar cases.
However, yesterday Vince confirmed on Twitter that legal action had been launched, "after the government told us they weren't prepared to review the rules that supported fossil fuel developments".
Jolyon Maugham, a director at the Good Law Project, told the Guardian that the government was "refusing to even commit to a review of an outdated energy policy that permits fossil fuel projects to be forced through".
"Our legal challenge seeks to change that," he added. "The government's outdated energy policy means approval to frack in Lancashire or permission for a new open cast coal mine can be forced through, despite our national and international commitments to tackle the climate emergency."
The government has blocked new fracking developments and reports today confirmed the country is continuing to expand its renewable energy project pipeline.
However, the campaigners maintain that the policy statement is still being used to approve new fossil fuel capacity that they argue is not necessary and would jeopardise the UK's climate targets.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said the government could not comment on on-going legal action.
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