In Brief

Heathrow’s new runway approved by the High Court

But green campaigners appeal to growing public concern over climate change

Heathrow airport’s third runway has moved one step closer to becoming reality, after the high court quashed a legal challenge alleging that it violated the UK’s climate change commitments.

The House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favour of the £18bn plans at Heathrow last year, but “campaigners argued that the legislation failed to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and congestion”, The Times reports.

Following the vote, five separate cases were brought against Transport Secretary Chris Grayling by a series of local authorities, residents in London affected by the expansion, charities including Greenpeace, Friends Of The Earth and Plan B, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

“Key parts of the legal challenge against the government argued the third runway is not compatible with climate change targets in UK domestic law, and also those agreed under international obligations in the Paris agreement in 2015,” says The Independent.

Under current laws, the government has a legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050. A new report published today called for a more ambitious target, seeking to reduce emissions to zero by the same date.

Councils argued that the plans will effectively create a new airport the size of Gatwick, and will increase the number of flights from a maximum of 480,000 a year to 740,000, accommodating 132 million passengers.

In the end judges ruled that ministers’ handling of the process had been legally sound, and the court upheld a government claim that adding to Heathrow’s capacity did not undermine Britain’s climate change commitments.

While “clearing a key hurdle that stood in the way of making the controversial expansion a reality”, says The Daily Telegraph, the ruling “could now see members of the Extinction Rebellion protest group put the airport into their crosshairs”. 

Following the success of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in raising public awareness, green campaigners have sought to leverage the growing public support for the UK to do more to tackle climate change.

Responding to the airport being given the go-ahead from the High Court, Greenpeace said while the campaigners may have lost this judgment, the government is losing the argument on whether such expansion is “morally justifiable”.

Arguing Heathrow throw airport “is already the single biggest climate polluter in the UK” and that “expansion will only exacerbate the problem.” Friends of the Earth said the decision was “out of step with the world”.

Heathrow will hold a detailed public consultation this summer followed by a major planning application, which is likely to lead to a public inquiry next year. If approved, construction could begin in 2021.

“However, it is highly likely that campaigners will return to court to challenge any planning approval,” says the Times, and an appeal against Wednesday’s decision “is also likely”.

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