Friends of the Earth will today take its legal case against Heathrow’s third runway plans to the Court of Appeal. 

The court will hear an appeal against the High Court’s decision that the government had not breached its sustainable development duties by allowing the expansion of Heathrow. The hearing is expected to last six days.

Friends of the Earth, represented by law firm Leigh Day, are leading the challenge on climate change arguments against the expansion of Heathrow and will be the first of the appellants to present their case to the Court of Appeal. A live stream of the hearing can be watched here.

Friends of the Earth argue in their case that the government’s decision to allow the expansion of Heathrow was unlawful as it breached the Department for Transport’s sustainable development duties in failing to mitigate climate change for future generations. This was specifically due to: not considering the Paris Agreement let alone assessing the expansion in the light of it; the absence of any climate policy beyond the 2050 target under the Climate Change Act; and the failure to factor in any impact from the non-CO2 contribution of aviation to climate breakdown.

Polling released by Friends of the Earth earlier this week found that 64% of people, after being told the potential benefits and negatives*, are concerned about the climate impact of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The same survey found that only 1 in 4 people support the plans for a third runway.

A third runway at Heathrow Airport would put 700 more planes into the sky each day – 50% more than the airport currently sees. This would all but blow chances of the UK meeting its targets for cutting emissions and fighting climate breakdown.

“Declaring a climate emergency while backing Heathrow’s third runway project shows the climate hypocrisy of our government. Expanding Heathrow would lead to a huge increase in climate-wrecking emissions. It’s time the government is held to account over the third runway, and for more thought to go into what a third runway would mean for the planet. We need to be cutting down the number of planes in our skies, not giving them a massive daily boost.”

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

“How can ministers even consider greenlighting high carbon infrastructure projects like the third runway at Heathrow at a time of climate crisis? The government has admitted that it did not consider the Paris agreement when agreeing to Heathrow expansion. We hope the Court of Appeal will now agree with us that this is not sustainable development and ignores the needs of future generations.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

“Since the last hearing in this case in March 2019 the government has legislated for net zero carbon emissions under the Climate Change Act which our client believes would have almost no chance of being met if the expansion of Heathrow was to go ahead. It also gives further weight to our client’s arguments that the expansion goes against the government’s own climate change goals.

“In recent months the issue of climate change has been pushed even further into the public consciousness with many thousands of people taking part in protests all around the world, including children and young people who fear for their futures if strong action is not taken soon.

“Despite his recent U-turn, our own Prime Minister once thought that the expansion of Heathrow would be so detrimental that he pledged to “lie in front of bulldozers” to stop it. It is clear that climate change cannot be ignored, and our client believes that the future of our planet should be prioritised over the needs of a small minority who will benefit from these extra flights.”

*The survey asked people about their level of concern, and whether they support or oppose the expansion, after respondents were shown the following text:

‘There are currently plans for a third runway to be built at Heathrow Airport. The additional runway would put 700 more planes into the sky each day- 50% more than the airport currently does. It has been suggested that this will bring certain benefits by creating new jobs and domestic flight routes, but it will also contribute to climate change and negatively impact those living around Heathrow Airport.’