The Court of Appeal has ruled that government acted illegally in their plans to expand Heathrow airport. This stops the climate wrecking plan dead in its tracks and holds government to account for acting in complete contradiction of the climate emergency at a time when we need urgent action.
The decision follows an ongoing legal battle over the project. In this case, Friends of the Earth successfully argued that the impact on the climate was not given due consideration (in line with legal requirements) when planning the expansion. In particular, that the Secretary of State chose not to factor in the Paris Agreement, nor the full scale of climate impacts aviation would create. They also didn’t account for the longer term climate impacts past 2050 (download the full legal briefing).
The climate battle against Heathrow
Friends of the Earth – alongside other organisations and many local campaigners – has been challenging plans to expand Heathrow since they were adopted in June 2018 (although the battle against Heathrow has been happening in different ways over many more years). In 2019 our legal team won the right to appeal previous High Court decisions in favour of government plans, specifically on the basis that the project went against legal duties to contribute to sustainable development and avoid climate breakdown.
The hearing for that appeal was in October 2019, and we’ve been waiting with bated breath ever since.
Is this a good result?
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. We’ve been opposed to expansion from the start, and it’s hard to overstate what a significant win this is.
Heathrow is already one of the single largest sources of emissions in the whole of the UK. The additional third runway would have meant around 700 extra flights per day, at a time when we should be investing in creating green jobs. It would have made government’s own targets of reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero all but impossible to meet.
The fact that the court has ruled government broke the law by not considering the Paris Agreement, nor the full climate impacts of a third runway, is a huge step forward in ensuring they take their own climate commitments more seriously – for all our sakes. It’s also a massive climate justice win for present and future generations.
The Paris Agreement aims to stop dangerous levels of climate change and prevent lives being destroyed by extreme weather. It’s also known as the Paris Climate Accord, Paris Climate Agreement and Paris Climate Deal.
World leaders shook on the text during the Paris climate talks in December 2015. The signing was a historic moment. 195 delegates agreeing for the first time to take collective action to combat climate change.
It officially came into force on 4 November 2016. So far, 158 parties have ratified the deal. These include the UK, EU, US, China and India. However, President Trump is pulling the US out of the deal.
Signatories agree to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C – and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°: the temperature that gives us the best chance of limiting impacts to levels that people and nature can cope with. We’ve already hit over 1° of warming, leading to melting sea-ice, 50° heatwaves and flooding.
The Agreement also compels nations to address the loss and damage caused by climate impacts. And it commits finance to help developing countries tackle and adapt to climate change.
Whilst only the arguments made on the basis of the climate – by Friends of the Earth and Plan B – were upheld, the ruling will have tangible benefits to local communities who have been fighting expansion for years, and who would have suffered increased air pollution and noise levels (among other things) were the expansion to go ahead. Some people were even due to lose their homes for it to be built.
So, is Heathrow going to expand?
Heathrow’s expansion in its current form is over. We await news on any appeal. But right now government must either abandon the expansion entirely, or go back to the drawing board and give serious consideration to the climate impact in any future plans, in accordance with the law.
Despite grand claims about leading the fight against climate breakdown, the government has failed to truly pursue the solutions to climate breakdown. Such as investing in renewable energies, improving our public transport infrastructure, and doubling tree cover. They have consistently failed to take the climate emergency seriously in decision-making. Now they've been found to be acting illegally in doing so too.
In the year that Glasgow will host the international climate talks, the government must make climate breakdown a deal-breaker in every decision it makes.