Heathrow Airport is today claiming that a controversial third runway could still comply with the UK’s climate commitments, as it looks to overturn a landmark appeal verdict.
The Supreme Court hearing comes eight months after campaigners celebrated stopping expansion at the West London airport “dead in its tracks”.
A judge at the Court of Appeal found the government’s policy framework for Heathrow expansion failed to take into account the UK’s Paris Agreement commitment to reduce warming to “well below” 2C, and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C from pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century.
While the government accepted the outcome, Heathrow Airport is now appealing by arguing that an international treaty such as the Paris Agreement cannot be made government policy until it’s entered into domestic law.
Tim Crosland, Director of campaign group Plan B, which is challenging Heathrow in the case, said the stakes “could hardly be higher”.
“It would be a terrible blow for the climate litigation movement, and the climate justice movement more widely, if the UK‘s highest court were to find in favour of Heathrow,” he told DeSmog.
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“Nothing would send out more clearly the message that ‘Paris Is Dead’. It would signal that the UK Government (and others around the world) can freely ignore the Paris temperature limit, on which so much life depends, so long as major corporations stand to profit by ignoring it.”
Lawyers representing Heathrow are arguing that former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was right to regard the Paris Agreement as “not relevant” to the airport expansion proceeding in 2018.
They claim that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) framework dictates the plans will be refused if it has a material impact on the UK’s ability to meet carbon reduction obligations — and therefore planning should follow due process before the expansion is ruled out.
In a statement, a Heathrow airport spokesperson said it would “ensure the expansion project was compliant with the UK’s climate change obligations, including under the Paris Climate Agreement”.
“We fully expect to be held to account by the government through the planning process,” they said. “We are appealing to the Supreme Court to allow this thorough planning process to proceed as it was designed.”
The court will later hear arguments from campaigners from Plan B and Friends of the Earth, who have long held that a third runway in the northwest of the airport would have a disastrous impact on the local environment by rerouting rivers, roads and contributing to further air pollution.
They claim expansion plans would also contribute 3-4 million tonnes to the UK’s carbon emissions, thereby flouting international climate commitments.
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said the charity was there “to defend our historic win for the planet” after February’s court victory.
“The government accepted illegal advice to ignore the Paris Climate agreement when making the initial decision to approve the third runway,” he said in a statement. “Heathrow is now trying to completely ignore this fact with its appeal.”
Rundle added he was “confident the court will re-affirm that the Paris Agreement cannot be ignored, and all the damaging climate impacts of Heathrow expansion must be fully considered in any decision”.
A decision on the case is not anticipated for several months.
Photo credit: Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia