Friends of the Earth have accused the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, of acting unlawfully when he agreed to the 3rd Heathrow runway, in the Airports NPS. Their lawyers at the High Court legal challenge hearings the DfT failed to consider the full impacts of climate change and the need for more stringent targets to avoid catastrophic global warming. “Friends of the Earth is concerned that the expansion of Heathrow by adding a 3rd runway will jeopardise the UK’s ability to make the very deep reductions in greenhouse gases that are necessary to prevent global warming from causing catastrophic, irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” The Court heard that the government knew when it approved the third runway that the Paris agreement, which UK ministers have signed, was likely to involve more stringent emissions targets than domestic law required under the 2008 UK Climate Change Act. David Wolfe QC, for FoE, said ministers were told by the Committee on Climate Change in January 2018 that as a result it was “essential that actions are taken now to enable these deeper reductions to be achieved”. But Grayling pressed on regardless, ignoring the advice.
The decision to expand Heathrow airport with a third runway was unlawful because it failed to consider the full impacts of climate change and the need for more stringent targets to avoid catastrophic global warming, the high court has been told.
Friends of the Earth on Wednesday accused the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, of acting unlawfully when he agreed to the expansion, which is contained in the government’s airports national policy statement.
“Friends of the Earth is concerned that the expansion of Heathrow airport by adding a third runway will jeopardise the UK’s ability to make the very deep reductions in greenhouse gases that are necessary to prevent global warming from causing catastrophic, irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the NGO said in documents submitted to the court.
The allegation that the third runway is not compatible with climate change targets in UK domestic law, and agreed under international obligations in the Paris agreement, is one of five legal challenges to the third runway at Heathrow from local councils, environmentalists and the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
The court heard that the government knew when it approved the third runway that the Paris agreement, which UK ministers have signed, was likely to involve more stringent emissions targets than domestic law required under the UK Climate Change Act of 2008.
Under domestic law, the government has a legal commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050. But since the government signed the Paris agreement, it has been made aware that the reductions in emissions have to be deeper. The agreement has increased the demand for nations to tackle emissions, with its ambition to limit global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C.
David Wolfe QC, for Friends of the Earth, said ministers were told by the climate change committee in January 2018 that as a result it was “essential that actions are taken now to enable these deeper reductions to be achieved”.
But he said Grayling failed to legally take both domestic law and international obligations into account when approving the third runway after receiving this advice.
The court heard that the ability of the UK to meet the lower 2050 aviation emissions target already required other industries and sectors to reduce their emissions by 85%, which was “at the limit of what is feasible [for other sectors], with limited confidence about the scope for going beyond this”.
The House of Commons voted in favour of building a third runway at Heathrow last year, approving Grayling’s national policy statement by 415 votes to 119.
Nigel Pleming QC, for a coalition of local councils, Greenpeace and the London mayor, has told the high court the development, if it goes ahead, will in effect add a new airport with the capacity of Gatwick to the north of Heathrow.
He said building a third runway at Heathrow would have “severe” negative consequences for residents and Grayling had ignored the “high risk” that expansion would breach air quality standards.
The planned expansion would enable Heathrow to add 260,000 flights a year to its current 480,000 capacity.
The legal challenges come as new scientific analysis found there was only a narrow window to keep global warming levels to less than 2C as required in the Paris agreement. The study published in Nature Climate Change suggested carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world to meet the below 2C target for warming by 2100.
Plan B Earth’s skeleton argument against the DfT on how the Airports NPS (Grayling …) failed on climate
Plan B Earth is making one of the 5 legal challenges against the government, due to their decision to support the building of a 3rd runway at Heathrow, through the “Airports National Planning Statement” (ANPS). They have filed their skeleton argument, which is the basis of their submissions at the trial. Plan B says: “In essence, it’s a simple argument. Chris Grayling considered the Paris Agreement “irrelevant” to his decision. He was wrong.” Part of the skeleton argument states: “(1). At the heart of all three grounds of Plan B’s claim, lies a common concern: the Secretary of State’s failure to assess the ANPS against the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (“the Paris Agreement”) and specifically the Paris Agreement temperature limit (“Paris Temperature Limit”), which, according to the best available science, demarcates the boundary between humanity and an intolerable risk of disaster: disaster for the environment; for the economy; and for international security. (2.) Initially the Secretary of State purported to have taken the Paris Agreement into account. His own witnesses, however, undermined that claim. Once Plan B drew that to his attention, the Secretary of State modified his position: when he said that he had considered the Paris Agreement, he meant only that he had considered it to be irrelevant.” Read the full skeleton.
Government tries to deny its climate responsibility to aim for 1.5C temperature rise, in pushing for 3rd Heathrow runway
The pre-trial hearing for the series of legal challenges against the Government’s decision to expand Heathrow takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Tuesday 15th January. In legal correspondence between the defendant (Government) and one of the claimants, Plan B Earth, the Government argues that “[Plan B] is wrong to assert that “Government policy is to limit warming to the more stringent standard of 1.5˚C and “well below” 2˚C’. This means that the Government is effectively denying that its own policy is to limit warming to the level that has been agreed internationally is required to avoid climate breakdown. The legal challenge brought by Plan B Earth and Friends of the Earth assert that the Government decision to proceed with Heathrow expansion was unlawful as it failed to appropriately consider climate change. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described the case as “the iconic battleground against climate change”. The Committee on Climate Change had previously expressed surprise that neither the commitments in the Climate Change Act 2008 nor the Paris Agreement (2015) were referenced in the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (aka. the plans for a 3rd Heathrow runway).This is a huge inconsistency.
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