Heathrow third runway illegal over climate change

Thursday 27th February 2020 | Jake

Having signed up to the Paris climate agreement in 2016, while also enshrining in law an ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Heathrow’s proposed expansion into a third runway was beginning to look shaky of late. Now, after a court of appeal ruling against the expansion, the project is looking doomed.

An expansion to Heathrow has long been mooted, but in recent years a better understanding of the climate crisis – and the impact more air traffic would have on it – has shifted public opinion on the topic. New laws and commitments further support the defence of the environment. The court of appeal has ruled ministers did not take into account commitments to the Paris climate agreement, and, per the BBC, the proposal was subsequently ruled illegal. The Guardian later reported the government would not appeal the judges' verdict.


Sky News footage, posted by Extinction Rebellion

Transport secretary Grant Shapps pointed towards the possibility of industry figures fighting the ruling, while confirming the government wouldn’t appeal. “Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.” He told the Guardian.

Of course, Boris Johnson, leader of said government, has often voiced his disapproval of an expansion. He infamously told reporters he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction” of a third runway. Expediently, Johnson agreed to drop his opposition as he vied for support in his effort to become leader of the Conservative party. Embarrassingly he previously skipped a ministers vote on whether to approve the third runway.

Luckily for Johnson, the decision by the judges prevents him from having to once again choose between integrity and shameless reversal. He (and we) can thank, among many others, the legal charity Plan B. Plan B brought the challenge against the expansion to the high court in 2018, and then, when that was thrown out, to the court of appeal in 2019.


Friends of the Earth on the court's decision

Plan B successfully argued the government was neglecting the agreement it signed up to in Paris, and a third runway would significantly damage the government’s environmental ambitions. The Paris climate agreement is a series of targets agreed upon by countries, designed to limit the consequences of climate change. Britain signed up to the accord instantly. 188 states and the EU have accepted the agreement as of 2020.

Welcoming the court’s decision, Friends of the Earth said in a statement: This is a great result for the environment, and an excellent example of how we can (and should) hold government to account on their damaging decisions.