The Court of Appeal has found in favour of the campaigners – including Friends of the Earth – who took the government to court over the third runway. The key argument was that the government in its National Policy Statement (NPS) had failed to take into account the ‘Paris Agreement’. The Paris Agreement is an international agreement, signed by UK, to reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 and thereby prevent catastrophic climate change.
Lots has appeared in the press and the airwaves, so no need to repeat here. But interesting to see that even the Financial Times sees this as a landmark: “The decision is not just a setback for Heathrow’s backers. It also holds implications for future infrastructure projects: the government will have to consider such proposals in light of its climate pledges, or risk being open to legal challenge. It is a landmark moment, one that brings a much-needed dose of reality to Britain’s commitment to reduce its carbon emissions to almost net zero by 2050.”
This judgment DOES NOT mean that a third runway is of itself unlawful or must be cancelled. It simply means that the NPS has to be revised to take account of the Paris Agreement. However, this has very important implications:
a) Boris Johnson is thought to be unenthusiastic about a third runway. This judgment gives him the opportunity and ‘political space’ to remove government support for Heathrow expansion.
b) it is huge precedent in the fight against climate change. The court said, in effect, that if the government signs an agreement on climate change, it is obliged to actually take account of it when developing plans and policies on carbon-emitting projects.
More and more people now realise that massive increases in flying and a third runway at Heathrow are inconsistent with the UK’s and worldwide climate targets.
The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has been saying for a while that if aviation were to grow at the rate the government forecasts – and indeed is promoting – then it will be impossible to meet the Net Zero target by 2050. [More] Let alone by 2030, the date which most scientists and analysts think is necessary.
The response of government has been twofold. Firstly, to simply say that emissions from aircraft flying to and from the UK ‘don’t count’ because they are “international”. Secondly, to mislead the public.
On 20/1/20, a group of scientists called out government minister Matt Hancock who said that “flying has already been decarbonised”, an outright lie. [Letter from scientists]
Heathrow has joined the government’s campaign of mis-information. Hundreds of thousands of glossy leaflets have been delivered to households “How Heathrow can expand and tackle climate”. It claims that sustainable fuels, offsets and electric planes will solve the problem. They won’t.
Now a group of scientists from 6 universities, led by Professor Julian Allwood at Cambridge University, has produced a report which again rebuts these false claims.
“The UK aviation industry this week promised to bring its net carbon emissions down to zero by 2050 while growing by 70 per cent, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly predicted that “viable electric planes” would be available in just a few years.
But past experience with innovation in aviation suggests that such ambitious targets are unrealistic and distracting. The only way the UK can get to net zero emission aviation by 2050 is by having a substantial period of no aviation at all. Let’s stop placing impossible hopes on breakthrough technologies, and try to hit emissions targets with today’s technologies.” [Report]