New Runway For Heathrow Airport Nixed By Court Ruling

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Heathrow airport, outside of London, is one of the busiest in the world. So busy, in fact, that officials have been planning for years to add a third major runway, which would make it the busiest of all by far. But an appeals court in London has ruled that the new runway cannot be built as planned because the proposal did not properly consider the commitments the UK government agreed to in the Paris climate accords, according to The Guardian.

Heathrow Airport
Image credit: Heathrow Airport

The third runway would cost £14 billion and would not be finished until 2028 at the earliest. It would allow 700 more airplanes to takeoff and land at the airport every day, adding an enormous amount of carbon dioxide to the skies over London.

The court did not say that a new runway could never be built. It merely decided the existing plan was drawn up with little to no regard for the environmental impact of such a new runway and how it would effect the country’s commitments made in Paris in 2015. In his opinion, Justice Lindblom said, “We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake. 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.”

After the decision by the appeals court, the UK government said it would not appeal further. Transport secretary Grant Shapps told The Guardian: “Our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry-led. Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity and levelling up across the UK. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.”

The airport has indicated it will appeal the decision, saying the issue identified by the court is “eminently fixable.” CNN reports the airport issued a statement saying, “We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful. In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.”

Ultimately the decision about what to do next will be up to Boris Johnson, who was actively opposed to the third runway project when he was mayor of London. Sadiq Khan, the current mayor of London, welcomed the court’s decision. “A new runway at Heathrow would have serious consequences on climate change, on air quality, on noise pollution, on road and rail networks, and on the quality of life in our city,” he said in a statement.

“This has wider implications.”

Environmental advocates were thrilled by the court ruling. Friends of the Earth, which was involved in organizing opposition to the runway expansion plan, described it as “an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice.” Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement reported by CNN, “This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions. t’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”

Tim Crosland, director of the Plan B. Earth, said in a separate statement, “It would have been hard to imagine this outcome even a couple of years ago. But as the scale and impacts of the ecological crisis become clearer, with people dying and being displaced in the UK and around the world, it’s vital we reject the politics of division and unite amidst adversity.”

The decision was hailed by leaders of the Extinction Rebellion, whose protests last year sought to bring the climate emergency home to Britons last year. Mary Anne Roff, a partner at London law firm Clyde & Company, told CNN, “The last year has seen a surge in litigation across the globe associated with the effects and risks of climate change.  The Court of Appeal made clear that they have not decided that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. Nor have they decided that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

“But their insistence on the Government complying with its commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement underlines the continuing and increasing importance that those involved with the planning, construction, and operation of infrastructure and other major projects must take climate change into account.”

In some countries, where the courts are not hostages of fossil fuel companies, the wheel is turning and the law is paying more attention to the legal issues associated with the commitments that national governments gave to the world community in Paris in December, 2015. Don’t be under any illusion that the reactionary judges added to the US courts by the current occupant of the Oval Office will follow suit.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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