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Friends of the Earth launches High Court legal challenge to Heathrow expansion

Formal legal action has begun at the High Court over claims the decision by the Government to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport is unlawful as it fails to address the UK's climate change obligations.

Posted on 07 August 2018

The legal challenge brought by Friends of the Earth challenges the legal basis of the government’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), the policy framework for expansion at Heathrow Airport devised by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which gives the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow.
Lawyers Leigh Day, on behalf of Friends of the Earth, filed papers with the High Court on 6 August 2018 asking for the Airports NPS published in June to be quashed. The environmental campaign charity claims that the NPS fails to account for all the impacts on future generations, who will be left with the adverse consequences of growth from aviation-increasing climate impacts. 
In the papers filed at the High Court Friends of the Earth argues that the government’s Airports NPS is unlawful as it amounts to a breach of the UK’s climate change policy, as well as its sustainable development duties, due to the following:

  • it does not explain how it takes account of domestic targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction under the Climate Change Act 2008;
  • it does not factor in the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C;
  • it fails to factor in the non-CO2 climate impacts of a third runway, such as the emission of nitrogen oxides, which generate warming effects of a similar magnitude to CO2 emissions;
  • it does not lawfully and fully consider the likely impact on future generations of a third runway, who will be stranded with the climate-damaging infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth's director of campaigns Liz Hutchins said:
“The government’s airports strategy completely ignores its obligations to tackle climate change - this is short-sighted, incredibly reckless and we believe it is unlawful.
“Allowing the aviation industry to pump more pollution into the atmosphere will make it far harder to prevent catastrophic climate change – and leaves future generations to suffer the consequences.
“It’s time to end our reliance on the fossil fuels that are already roasting our planet and threatening peoples’ lives, homes and livelihoods.”
Rowan Smith from the public law team at Leigh Day said:
“Our client believes that the expansion of Heathrow Airport will jeopardise the UK’s ability to make the very deep reductions in Greenhouse Gases that will be necessary to prevent global warming from causing catastrophic, irreversible impacts for the environment and future generations. In no sensible terms can this be described as sustainable development, when the additional costs of carbon-offsetting and the global warming potential of non-CO2 emissions from aviation do not feature in the Government’s plans.
“The Government has a legal duty to take into account climate change policy and the Paris agreement it has committed to with the global community, the Airports National Policy Statement does not adequately consider those factors and we therefore will argue that it is unlawful.”
A decision on whether there will be a full hearing about these issues is expected to be made this Autumn.

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