We’re taking the government to court (again) over new oil and gas – here’s why

The government recently approved a new oil and gas licensing round, which would be a disaster for the climate. We believe their plan is unlawful too.


Greenpeace is taking the government to court over the latest oil and gas licensing round in the North Sea, which could see up to 130 new licences given out.

What are the licences?

They give fossil fuel companies access to a section of the North Sea to extract oil and gas.

It’s deja vu. Back in the summer, Greenpeace filed a legal challenge against the government’s approval of the development of the Jackdaw gas field off the coast of Aberdeen.

The UK government is now facing three separate possible legal challenges over the new licensing round from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Uplift. On top of this, their Net Zero Strategy was deemed “unlawful” in a historic High Court ruling in July.

So the pressure is really mounting.

Why the licencing plan is unlawful

Before letting the Oil and Gas Authority issue new licences, the UK government has a legal duty to do an environmental assessment, which includes covering climate change impacts.

But we believe they’ve gone ahead and approved a new licensing round without checking how much CO2 would end up in the atmosphere from actually burning the extracted oil and gas. This means their environmental assessment ignores 80% of the emissions that these new licences would generate – it’s absurd and outrageous!

The licences would fuel the climate crisis further. They’d mean more extreme weather events like the unprecedented heatwaves and droughts that gripped the UK in 2022. More fossil fuels would also threaten other countries around the world, which have contributed the least to the climate crisis and are already suffering the most destruction.

A flame bursts from the arm of a large oil rig in the sea

A rig in an oil field in the UK part of the North Sea. © Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace

Less warm words, more warm homes

Before COP27, Rishi Sunak claimed to be a ‘clean energy champion’. And in his speech he said some encouraging things, like: “climate security goes hand in hand with energy security”.

That’s correct, but the government’s granting of oil and gas licences makes it hard to believe he means it. He must reverse their bad decision. Because warm words will not heat people’s homes this winter.

New oil and gas is not the solution to our energy crisis

New oil and gas licences will do nothing to bring people’s energy bills down or increase the UK’s energy security.

That’s because the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea is owned by the fossil fuel companies and not the UK government. And the companies won’t keep the oil and gas for the UK and sell it to households at affordable prices. Instead, they’ll sell it to the highest bidder in the global markets.

On top of this, it can take decades for new oil and gas projects to start producing energy. We need affordable and sustainable energy now. Seven million people in the UK are facing fuel poverty this winter and the climate crisis is speeding up fast.

Only oil and gas giants could benefit from these new licences. And they’re already making obscene profits from the energy crisis.

An activist stands on top of a stone tower waving a huge flag with the slogan "change the politics save the climate". Behind him, the iconic Big Ben clock looms just out of focus.

What the UK government should do instead

People need renewables.

Because of the 2016 onshore wind ban households could be paying £800m more this winter.

Right now, the best thing the UK government could do to tackle both the energy and the climate crises is to properly tax fossil fuel companies. And use that money to invest in making our homes warmer through proper insulation and rolling out cheap renewable power.

It would be quicker and cheaper, and would help tackle the energy and climate crises at the same time.

How you can help

Every time the government acts unlawfully to push through fossil fuel projects, Greenpeace will be ready to challenge them.

And it’s not just us. UK climate campaigners are mounting more and more legal challenges, which are making the North Sea less appealing to fossil fuel companies. Experts say that the North Sea is now the world’s ‘highest risk’ area for oil and gas legal disputes.

Take action and help spread the word. Together, we will put a stop to new UK oil and gas projects.

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