Heathrow expansion again deemed “unlawful” due to climate impact

An artist's impression of Heathrow Airport after the development of the third runway

Lawyers representing the campaign group submitted documents to the Court which state: “Friends of the Earth is concerned the expansion of Heathrow airport by adding a third runway will jeopardise the UK’s ability to make the very deep reductions in greenhouse gases that are necessary to prevent global warming from causing catastrophic, irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The group is one of a number of bodies, including local councils and Greenpeace, that have taken the UK Government to court over the impact of a third runway at Heathrow. They believe that the Government’s own climate change targets – especially with regards to aviation by 2050, on air pollution levels, and regarding other issues such as noise pollution – would be broken by the development.

For example, the High Court was told that the UK’s ability to reach its 2050 aviation emissions target already required other industries and sectors to reduce emissions by 85%, which was “at the limit of what is feasible…with limited confidence about the scope for going beyond this”.

Additionally, Friends of the Earth has claimed that the Government knew when it signed off the third runway that the Paris Agreement would tighten emission rules further than the original 2008 Climate Change Act, and nations would have to increase climate action beyond the legislation already laid out.

Following years of arguments across the political spectrum and a lengthy governmental report on the issue, Parliament last year voted by 415 to 119 to allow the runway development to happen. A new runway is therefore now expected to be built to the north of the current site, creating additional capacity similar to that of Gatwick Airport as a whole.

Heathrow 2.0

Despite this legal action, Heathrow itself does have an ambitious sustainability programme aimed at mitigating the negative environmental impact of a third runway. The all-encompassing strategy, dubbed Heathrow 2.0, lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues. It is divided into four key pillars – ‘A great place to work’; ‘A great place to live’; ‘A thriving sustainable economy’; and ‘A world worth travelling’.

The 2020 ambition is for all growth from the airport’s new runway will be carbon-neutral; the last 5% of flights made by the most polluting aircraft will have been removed, NOx emissions from airport-related traffic will have been reduced by at least 40% from a 2013 baseline, and a new Centre of Excellence for sustainable aviation will be developed.

Following that, by 2030, more than half of all airport passenger journeys will be made via public and sustainable transport. And by 2050, Heathrow will be zero-carbon and zero-waste, and all of the water consumed by the airport will come from sustainable sources, it has claimed.

In light of this action, Heathrow Airport was awarded the Sustainable Business of the Year Award by judges at edie’s recent Sustainability Leaders Awards. Read more about Heathrow and our other award-winners here. 

James Evison

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