Government taken to court over financing of controversial Mozambique gas project

Government taken to court over financing of controversial Mozambique gas project
© John Wessels/AFP via Getty Images

Young boys carry sacks of food after being displaced by violence in northern Mozambique

– John Wessels/AFP via Getty Images

The UK government is being taken to court over its funding of a controversial gas project in Mozambique.

The huge development in Cabo Delgado has been branded a “climate-wrecking gas mega-project” by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which is bringing the case to the High Court on Tuesday.

The liquefied natural gas plant, run by French energy giant Total, could emit up to 4.5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime – more than the combined annual emissions of all 27 EU countries, according to a Friends of the Earth report.

The organisation claims more than £850 million in funding was wrongly deemed compatible with the Paris climate agreement, and hopes the court will find the decision to finance the project unlawful.

The discovery of natural gas in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province in the last decade has fuelled devastating conflict. The region has been terrorised by armed insurgents since 2017, with several attacks claimed by the extremist group Islamic State. More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced.

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is susceptible to tropical cyclones, floods and severe drought. A Unicef report found the country’s children are among the world’s most at risk from climate change.

The legal challenge comes as 17 scientists and academics separately urged the government to withdraw its support for the project.

In an open letter to the prime minister, they argued the funding was incompatible with climate change targets, and would “do almost nothing to improve energy access in one of the world’s poorest countries” since more than 95 per cent of the gas will be exported.

The letter states: “To genuinely help Mozambique and its people, as well as other communities in sub-Saharan Africa, the UK should use its finances to support the region’s vast potential for renewable energy.”

Last year, the prime minister promised to end taxpayer support for overseas fossil fuel schemes, but funds for the gas project in Mozambique had already been approved.

Friends of the Earth points out said the funding – provided through the government’s export credit agency UK Export Finance (UKEF) – was not withdrawn in line with this new policy direction.

Will Rundle, head of Friends of the Earth’s legal department, said: “The UK has poured an eye-watering amount of taxpayer money into developing a huge new gas field in Mozambique right in the middle of a climate emergency, with little regard for the true cost to people and planet.

“Astonishingly, the government has justified this move because it says it’s in line with the Paris Agreement. But on building this case, we have learned that essential information was not considered that puts this devastating project at odds with international climate targets.”

Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s only right the door’s blown wide open on this dirty investment.

“The UK needs to recognise its historic contribution to the crisis we’re now in by helping countries on the frontline, like Mozambique, make that all-important transition to renewable energy for all.

“By ending its support for all fossil fuels, including gas, the government can be known for something other than climate hypocrisy.”

A spokesperson for the government said it does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

But he added: “We remain confident that UK Export Finance follows robust and internationally recognised due diligence before providing any support for overseas projects.”

The three-day judicial review takes place at the High Court from 7 to 9 December.

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