Climate activists lose legal battle to stop Heathrow third runway

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Climate activists have lost a long-running legal battle to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

The Supreme Court has overturned a previous Court of Appeal ruling in a case brought by Friends of the Earth and others against Heathrow Airport.

The court was asked to consider if the government’s failure to take into account the UK’s climate commitments rendered the planned third runway unlawful.

Tim Crosland, of the campaign group Plan B, said the original decision by former transport secretary Chris Grayling to support the expansion made a “mockery” of the government’s commitment to show international leadership in the face of a climate emergency.

Chris Grayling
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Activists had sought to challenge ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision

“Had Chris Grayling assessed Heathrow expansion against the 1.5C temperature goal in the Paris Agreement he could not have approved it,” he said.

“The pandemic has reminded us of our subjection to natural laws.

“The Paris temperature limit is all that divides us from a grim future of crisis upon crisis.

More from Heathrow Airport

“The Supreme Court’s judgement, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly two degree threshold, has betrayed us all.”

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, almost all countries – including the UK – agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and “well below” two degrees of warming.

At a Court of Appeal ruling in February, three judges concluded Mr Grayling failed to take account of the government’s commitments to tackling climate change when setting out support for the Heathrow project in an Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS).

The ANPS was set out in 2018 – three years after the Paris Agreement, but a year before the UK made a legally-binding commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050,

At a two-day appeal hearing in October, a panel of five Supreme Court justices heard the challenge brought by Heathrow Airport Ltd.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Travellers arrive at Heathrow Airport on August 22, 2020 in London, England. As of Saturday morning at 4am, travellers arriving in England from Austria, Croatia, and Trinidad and Tobago were required to quarantine themselves for 14 days. At the same time, travellers from Portugal were no longer required to quarantine. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
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Heathrow is the UK’s busiest airport

The government and developers have stepped back from the legal process, saying they do not support a further appeal of the case.

Lawyers for Heathrow Airport Ltd told the court that the firm, which owns and operates the airport in west London, still wishes to go ahead with the expansion project.

Reacting to the news, a spokesperson for Heathrow said it was the “right result for the country” and “will allow Global Britain to become a reality”.

“Only by expanding the UK’s hub airport can we connect all of Britain to all of the growing markets of the world, helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of our country,” they said.

“Demand for aviation will recover from COVID-19, and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.”

It is the latest in 17 years of wrangling over whether or not to build a third runway at Heathrow.

Prior to becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson had vowed to “lie down in front of bulldozers” to stop it being built.

The decision is seen as hugely significant because it could influence other legal challenges on policies that aren’t seen as being compatible with tackling climate change.

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