A docked plane at Heathrow airport

Third runway for Heathrow blocked

Controversial plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport have been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that they did not adequately take into account the UK’s climate commitments, including a legally-binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.

London Heathrow is already one of the world’s busiest airports, with 80 million passengers a year. The £14bn third runway project, which was given the go-ahead in May 2019, was to have been built by 2028, bringing in 700 more planes per day and contributing to a significant rise in carbon emissions. 

Heathrow and supporters of the third runway have insisted that the development is crucial for business in a global economy, particularly after Brexit. However, campaigners have disputed this as short-term thinking. 

“The court has decided that the Airports National Policy Statement is fatally undermined by ignoring climate commitments, but we still need the government to permanently ground Heathrow’s expansion plan,” said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK. 

No amount of spin from Heathrow’s PR machine can obscure the carbon logic of a new runway. Their plans would pollute as much as a small country.

– John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK

The latest decision has been hailed as a victory for environmental groups, local residents, councils and the Mayor of London, who had brought the challenge to court. Heathrow Airport said it would oppose the decision, but the government has said that it will not appeal and is considering its next steps. 

These could involve abandoning the project, drawing up a new policy document to approve the runway, or making the argument for Birmingham to provide increased airport capacity for London, in the wake of the possibility of shorter train journey times via the HS2 high-speed railway project.

With the UK making this landmark ruling, the first in the world based on the Paris climate agreement, campaigners hope that it will inspire challenges against other high-carbon projects elsewhere.

The appeal court’s Lord Justice Lindblom said: “The Paris agreement ought to have been taken into account by the secretary of state. The national planning statement was not produced as the law requires.” 

Tim Crosland, from legal charity Plan B, which brought one of the challenges, told The Guardian: “It’s now clear that our governments can’t keep claiming commitment to the Paris agreement, while simultaneously taking actions that blatantly contradict it.

“The bell is tolling on the carbon economy loud and clear.”

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