Heathrow expansion ruled unlawful: Industry responds

What does the energy sector think the ruling will mean for the UK’s climate goals and the future of aviation?

Government plans to expand Heathrow Airport have been ruled ‘unlawful’ as it was judged that it failed to take account of the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The controversial plans to build a third runway at what is already one of the busiest airports in the world have been cancelled in a historic judgment showing that the Paris Agreement can be used successfully in the courts.

Opportunity to put Heathrow expansion to bed

Lord Randall of Uxbridge, former Conservative MP and climate adviser to Prime Minister Theresa May, said: “This is an opportunity for Boris Johnson to put Heathrow expansion to bed and focus on the most important diplomatic event of his premiership, the COP climate summit in Glasgow later this year.

“It’s his chance to shine on the world stage. In choosing to accept the court’s decision Boris is sending a signal that UK plc can prosper without expanding airports and ripping up our commitments on the climate crisis.”

‘This is huge’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “This is huge. I’m delighted that the Court of Appeal has recognised that the government cannot ignore its climate change responsibilities.

“I will continue to stand up for Londoners’ concerns by doing everything I can to stop the Heathrow expansion.”

Extremely disappointing verdict

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered airlines, said: “Today’s decision is extremely disappointing. The Sir Howard Davies Airports Commission spent several years looking at airport capacity in the South East and was clear Heathrow is the only game in town, with other schemes being considered and ultimately rejected.

“The economic prize is enormous if expansion is done right, with airlines ready to respond to the unlocking of new capacity by creating new routes and helping to connect the UK to new markets and destinations, and Heathrow to regions across the country. UK aviation has committed to net zero carbon by 2050 and this factors in the emissions created by Heathrow expansion. It is not a question of being pro-aviation or pro-environment.”

Important step to protect public health

“Global warming of the planet affects the health of populations and individuals. Any decision to build another London runway would increase risk to the health and wellbeing of people not only locally but also more widely and for our children and grandchildren.”

That was the suggestion from Professor Sir Malcolm Green, Professor Emeritus at Imperial College and spokesperson for the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, who also suggested health professionals would welcome the ruling as “an important step in the right direction”.

Victory for future generations

Tanya Steele, CEO of the WWF, said: “This is a victory for the climate and for future generations who will have to live with the impacts of environmentally catastrophic infrastructure projects. No plan for net zero emissions, either from the UK Government or from Heathrow itself, can be credible if it includes a third runway.”

Huge win for climate

Aviation Environment Federation Deputy Director Cait Hewitt suggested the announcement was a “huge win” for the climate and noted it would leave Heathrow’s third runway plans “in tatters”.

She added: “In presenting plans for a third runway to MPs, the government failed, the court has found, to assess whether this was compatible with the Paris Agreement.

“The project would increase emissions at the UK’s biggest airport, and the UK has since legislated to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, so it’s very hard to see how the government could now ever demonstrate that a third runway could be reconciled with the necessary scale of climate action.”

Death knell for expansion scheme

Luke Murphy, Head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said: “This landmark judgment should be the death knell for a scheme which is incompatible with tackling the climate emergency.

“The UK’s legal commitment to net zero and the Paris Agreement must mean urgent and radical reductions in carbon emissions. Allowing Heathrow expansion which could have contributed to the near doubling in demand for flights was always totally inconsistent with that goal.”

Government must take account of climate commitments

Professor Sam Fankhauser, Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “This is a good ruling because it makes clear that the government must take account of its domestic and international commitments on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases when making decisions about long-lived infrastructure projects.

“The government should now re-consider how the UK’s aviation sector fits into an overall integrated transport strategy for the country that is consistent with the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. There needs to be much more investment by both government and the aviation industry to speed up the development of zero-carbon flying, most likely using electric batteries for short-haul flights and biofuels for longer distances.

“Until zero-carbon flying is available, the government should find ways to shift passengers off planes and onto clean, fast, convenient and affordable modes of travel, such as trains powered by zero-carbon electricity.”

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