Nobody thought very much at the time about the UK branch of the Friends of the Earth saying it would get a judicial review of the UK Government’s decision to approve $1.1 billion of finance for an LNG terminal in Mozambique – but it is right now in progress as you read this.
We will go to press just before the result is known, but one thing is for sure – if the UK government can get it off the list of things that is currently embarrassing it, it will do so, and that means that it will not appeal any negative result and it would dearly love to pull out its cash, and go on its way.
The UK Prime Minister was known to have hit his forehead and swore when he heard that the UK Export Finance Guarantee team had quietly given the go ahead without his consent, in the year before COP26 was to be held on his turf.
The basis upon which Friends of the Earth makes the challenge is that a condition claiming it was compatible with the Paris Agreement was quite clearly incorrect and absurd – but it depends upon your geopolitical viewpoint whether or not that can be proven in court. But it is not surprising that no-one on the project actually took a look at what the UK had promised back in 2015 when signing the Paris agreement.
Another certainty is that if this financial package falls apart, no-one will put Humpty Dumpty back together again, because natural gas is now so expensive that for the next few years at least, it is uncertain if anyone will use this particular LNG terminal once built, meanwhile one of the poorest countries in the world will be paying for the privilege of it being there.
A Friends of the Earth paper claims that this terminal will emit up to 4.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases over its lifetime – a figure cleverly equated to one entire year of all 27 EU countries. Somehow no-one bothered to add this up and add it to the UK’s share of emissions, and that’s the nub of the case, that and the idea that this is a clear contradiction of the UK’s obligation to help countries like Mozambique meet their own climate targets.
Back in March this government also promised to end direct overseas investment in fossil fuels, but no-one revisited the Mozambique LNG decision.
The Friends of the Earth paper has also detailed how much internal conflict this has thrown up, and how many people have been thrown off their lands to allow the project to go ahead – citing a number as high as 750,000.
According to Friends of the Earth, the money flowing into the northern region of Cabo Delgado, where the LNG terminal is to be built, has resulted in corruption and conflict, with local people the last in line for any benefits, and the government opening the doors to foreign investors and using the army and paid mercenaries to clear the area, killing locals and stealing the compensation offered by TotalEnergies for themselves. The narrative that the Friends of the Earth has pushed is that these actions will turn locals into insurgents, fueling the internal conflict and creating more uncertainty and it says it has uncovered human rights abuses, abductions, forced marriages, sexual violence, and forcible recruitment of children to anti-government groups, while blaming all this on foreign Islamic terrorists.
None of this will cut much mustard in a UK review, only whether or not what the UK Government has done can be construed as being illegal in any sense, breaking international agreements, but if the Judicial Review gives the UK Government the opportunity to look at this again it is a certainty to be cancelled.
The French and German Finance Guarantee teams were also involved, and the new German Chancellor would almost certainly look for an opportunity to review his role in this deal, but better still have it cancelled without the German Export Guarantee ever being discussed.