Week of 24 February 2020
The Paris Agreement needs to be considered by the UK government when approving new projects, says the UK Court of Appeal (rejecting Heathrow airport’s third runway); this sets the stage for climate change to be considered for all high-carbon emitting projects moving forward
England’s Heathrow airport in London is one of the world’s busiest airports (with 80 million passengers a year). In 2018, the government’s national policy statement approved plans to build a third runway (£14 billion cost) to enable the passage of 700 more planes a day.
A number of organisations and individuals (Plan B, a legal charity, local residents, councils, the mayor of London, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others) contested the national policy statement. They argued in court that the target captured in the Paris Agreement (of keeping global temperature rise as close to 1.5C as possible) had been ratified by the UK government and therefore formed an essential part of government climate policy and needed to be considered by ministers in their decision-making.
The Court of Appeal agreed, and found on 27 February that the failure by then transport secretary Chris Grayling to take into account the Paris Agreement commitments when approving the third runway was “legally fatal”. The judges note that it “appears that the reason why it was never done is that the secretary of state received legal advice that not only did he not have to take the Paris Agreement into account but that he was legally obliged not to take it into account at all”. This was viewed as a “material misdirection of law at an important stage in the process.”
Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has remarked that the government will not appeal the ruling. Commentators note that the impact of this decision will be far-reaching. Not only does it mean that the Paris Agreement would need to be considered for any high-carbon emitting project moving forward in the UK, it may open the door to challenges against similar projects in other jurisdictions that have ratified the Paris Agreement.