Sarah Finch, a Surrey resident, challenged a local oil drilling permit in the Supreme Court, contesting its legality and raising concerns about climate impacts. The permit granted permission for oil extraction in Horsehill, UK. While Surrey County Council claimed adherence to planning law, Ms. Finch argued that the council overlooked the climate implications of burning the oil. This landmark case had nationwide implications for future fossil fuel projects. Ms. Finch’s case revolves around “downstream emissions,” which are the greenhouse gases released when the oil is used. She claims that these emissions could reach 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Planning authorities argue that they only need to consider the climate impacts of drilling, but Ms. Finch compares this to claiming a low-calorie chocolate cake as long as it remains uneaten. Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Surrey County Council argues that its planning decision complied with relevant laws and regulations. Ms. Finch’s initial challenge in the High Court was dismissed, but one judge in the Court of Appeals ruled in her favor. Lawyers from Friends of the Earth highlight the underestimation of carbon emissions from these projects. Developers are concerned that a comprehensive assessment of carbon impacts, including downstream emissions, could lead decision-makers to reconsider granting planning permission. This case is highly significant in light of the UK government’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the increasing controversy surrounding new fossil fuel projects in the country.