court of appeal


Good enough for jazz: how well does the government need to understand its Paris Agreement obligations? A case of emissions and omissions

24 January 2023 by

In R (Friends of the Earth Ltd) v Secretary of State for International Trade/UK Export Finance (UKEF) [2023] EWCA Civ 14, the Court of Appeal considered the implications of the Paris Agreement on climate change for governmental decision-making in relation to investing in a liquified natural gas project in Mozambique (the “Project”). Sir Geoffrey Vos MR, with whom Lord Justice Bean and Sir Keith Lindblom SPT agreed, dismissed Friends of the Earth’s appeal against the Divisional Court’s decision to dismiss their application for judicial review.

Photograph: Tom Pilgrim/PA; the Guardian.

The judgment sets out the approach which is to be taken where the government declares itself to be acting in accordance with the UK’s obligations under an unincorporated international treaty. The Court of Appeal also considered the well-established duty that a decision-maker must “ask himself the right question and take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant information to enable him to answer it correctly” (Secretary of State for Education and Science v Metropolitan Borough of Tameside [1977] AC 1014 at 1065, known as the “Tameside duty”). Put briefly, the Court of Appeal held that:

  1. the question of whether funding the Project was consistent with the UK’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement was accepted by the parties to be justiciable;
  2. however, the Paris Agreement, as an unincorporated international treaty, did not give rise to domestic legal obligations;
  3. having decided to have regard to the Paris Agreement, the respondents did not need to be right that funding the Project was consistent with it, so long as that view was “tenable”; and
  4. failing to quantify the indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the downstream distribution, storage and use of the gas produced (known as “Scope 3” emissions) – which would undoubtedly be by far the greatest part of the emissions caused by the Project – before deciding to finance the Project, was not a breach of the Tameside duty.

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