High Court dismisses climate case against third runway at Heathrow Airport

The High Court has today (1 May) dismissed five claimants objecting the expansion of Heathrow Airport on grounds including pollution and climate change impacts, a decision criticised in light of the recent declarations of a "climate emergency" in the UK.

High Court dismisses climate case against third runway at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow plans to operate zero-carbon airport infrastructure by 2050

The UK Government had been taken to court by a coalition of Greenpeace, the mayor of London and local councils over the anticipated increase in noise and pollution that the third runway would introduce. Friends of the Earth also filed a claim against the expansion, based on a perceived failure to consider climate change as part of national sustainable development.

However, the High Court has dismissed the claims. Friends of the Earth, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argued that the government’s Airports National Policy Statement was unlawful as it breached climate duties in the Planning Act 2008. A main point of the argument was that the Government had admitted to not considering the national contribution to the Paris Agreement as part of the approval of the expansion.

The High Court ruled that the Paris Accord did not have to be considered as part of the approval process, only the targets under the UK Climate Change Act.

Since the expansion was agreed, Heathrow Airport has published a new sustainability strategy, which includes a goal to procure 100% renewable electricity at the site. Other emissions-related commitments within the Heathrow 2.0 strategy include a plan to operate zero-carbon airport infrastructure by 2050 and to develop an ultra-low emissions zone for airside vehicles by 2025.

Heathrow Airport has invested almost £100,000 into a peatland restoration project near Salford, in a move that will push the airport towards its carbon-neutrality aim by offsetting the carbon emissions of almost 64,000 passenger flights to New York.

Contrasting emergencies

The court ruling has been widely criticised by green groups, with many noting the stark contrast in approving a third runway while devolved governments declare a “climate emergency”.

Friends of the Earth’s head of legal Will Rundle said: “On a day when parliament is being asked to declare a climate emergency and just before the independent Committee on Climate Change is expected to advise the government to tighten its belt on climate-wrecking emissions, this decision feels completely out of step with the real world around us.

“Heathrow airport is already the single biggest climate polluter in the UK, expansion will only exacerbate the problem. Parliament’s decision to green-light Heathrow was morally wrong, but today we believe the courts have got it legally wrong too. We are examining the judgement in detail and will consider all options including the possibility of appealing.”

Other campaigners involved in the proceedings have also noted that the mainstream attention attracted by the Extinction Rebellion protests mean that cases against the runway expansion are unlikely to subside.

Plan B’s director Tim Crosland added: “This is a disappointing judgment by the court, but it is increasingly difficult to see how the government’s reckless plans to expand Heathrow airport can proceed. Following the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, there is widespread recognition that we are in a state of climate and ecological emergency.

Elsewhere, the London Assembly Environment Committee’s chair Caroline Russell commented: “Although the Government’s policy on Heathrow has survived this court hearing, it is still not the right course for London or the environment.

 “The Government’s own figures show that the extra traffic caused by expansion will worsen air pollution widely across London, shortening Londoners’ lives. At the same time, 200,000 more people will be affected by noise from an expanded Heathrow. In light of the increasing evidence of an escalating climate emergency, we again call on the Government to cancel Heathrow expansion plans before more money is spent and more damage is done.”

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Chris Little says:

    I don’t think that carbon offsetting should be an available option as this creates a false economy with regards to emissions and is not synonymous with carbon reduction in my view.

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