Heathrow runway expansion ruled ‘unlawful’ as it ignored Paris Agreement pledge

The ruling states the government, which has also recently set a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, cannot ignore its own policy commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5˚C when planning major infrastructure projects

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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.

The ruling states the government, which has also recently set a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, cannot ignore its own policy commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5˚C when planning major infrastructure projects.

The £14 billion third runway was expected to bring 700 more planes into the airport each day and significantly ramp up associated carbon dioxide emissions.

The court, consisting of three Court of Appeal judges, said: “​The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State in the preparation of the [Heathrow Policy], but was not … What this means, in effect, is that the government when it published the [Policy] had not taken into account its own firm policy commitments on climate change under the Paris Agreement.

“That, in our view, is legally fatal to the [Policy] in its present form. As we have explained, the normal result in a successful claim for judicial review must follow, which is that the court will not permit unlawful action by a public body to stand.”

Tim Crosland, Director of legal charity Plan B which brought the challenge, said: “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 in adversity.

“This is an important moment for all of us and for our young people in particular. Some sanity is finally prevailing. It’s now clear that our governments can’t keep claiming commitment to the Paris Agreement, while simultaneously taking actions that blatantly contradict it.”

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