Court blocks Heathrow runway project

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Court blocks Heathrow runway project
Photo Credit: Timothy Bolitho/Shutterstock.com

A U.K. appeals court has blocked a $14 billion plan to build a third runway at capacity-constrained London Heathrow, saying the project was not developed in accordance with Great Britain’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

Climate activists have hailed the decision, but Heathrow says it will appeal. The third runway would enable a combined 260,000 more departures and arrivals per year at Heathrow, which is Europe’s most trafficked airport. 

In its ruling, the three-judge appellate panel stressed that it has not decided there will be no third runway at Heathrow. Instead, the court took aim on the U.K.’s Air National Policy Statement (ANPS), which sets policy statements for new runways and airport capacity in the southeast England. The ANPS, the panel said, must under statute include an explanation of how its policies account for adaptation to climate change.

“We have concluded, in particular, that the designation of the ANPS was unlawful by reason of a failure to take into account the government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement,” the judges wrote. 

“The consequence of our decision is that the government will now have the opportunity to reconsider the ANPS in accordance with the clear statutory requirements that Parliament has imposed,” they added. 

Heathrow said it would appeal the ruling.

“In the meantime, we are ready to work with the government to fix the issue that the court has raised,” the airport said. “Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the U.K. aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord. Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the prime minister’s vision of Global Britain.”

In contrast, U.K. finance minister Grant Shapps tweeted that the government won’t appeal. 

“Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity and leveling up across the U.K. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment,” he said. 

The ruling is a new challenge for the global aviation industry, which is facing increasing scrutiny from climate activists and governments over emissions. 

“The decision sends a strong signal across the globe that unmitigated growth of aviation emissions is fundamentally incompatible with protecting the planet,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.

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