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
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
“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.