activism climate change politics

Climate change makes Heathrow’s 3rd runway officially illegal

A lot of climate campaigners had an eye on the Court of Appeal this morning, where a landmark ruling was expected. The Mayor of London and a coalition of environmental agencies had brought a case against the government over the authorising of Heathrow’s third runway.

According to the case, brought by Plan B, the Minister for Transport had not taken climate targets into consideration in his decision, and thus it is unlawful. The court ruled against the government, throwing a major obstacle in the way of Heathrow expansion and potentially gifting campaigners a major new tool in the struggle against the carbon economy.

During the course of the trial, it emerged that the government had received advice warning that the Paris Agreement and the climate target had to be taken into account. They chose not to, so it’s entirely their own fault. The court has simply confirmed what every climate-aware person already knew – that airport expansion is incompatible with climate targets and cannot proceed.

This is already being hailed as a major victory by the groups that brought the case, and those that have supported it with demonstrations, such as Extinction Rebellion. It’s also important to think about the precedent it sets. As the BBC’s environment correspondent Roger Harrabin explains, “From now on, every infrastructure spending decision in the UK could face legal challenge if it doesn’t comply with the Climate Change Act, which mandates virtually zero emissions by 2050.”

If the law is going to uphold our ambitions to be carbon neutral by 2050, then projects that put it in jeopardy should not be allowed. You could apply the same logic to new coal mines, fracking, or motorway widening. It would surely apply to other airport expansion plans, including Luton’s. The scale is different, and Luton doesn’t want a second runway. But if still wants more passengers and flights, and the logic is the same. Local campaigners will certainly be raising this with the council, the owner and chief shareholder of the airport.

Tim Crossland from PlanB points out that previous court cases in Britain haven’t really accepted the climate change argument. This one has, and that gives campaigners a major new tool. As he says, “this is a completely game changing moment, the sound of the bell tolling on the carbon economy.”

Heathrow’s runway has risen from the dead before. And if the champions of aviation and growth see a conflict between their goals and the climate target, I expect a new round of objections to the climate target. But for today, this is a ruling that opens up some exciting new possibilities.

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