Plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal by the court of appeal because they are not compatible with the UK’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
The UK government signed up to the zero-carbon by 2050 target as part of the recent Paris agreement, and now that it’s ratified any future national development plans must be as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Ministers have two choices now. They can withdraw the whole policy statement or try to amend it to make it to make the proposed Heathrow development carbon neutral.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This event shows how environmental law, specially relating to climate change, is evolving. This ruling was the first time in history that a government project was declared illegal because of the future harm it might do to the environment.
It’s also an example of the paradoxes, contradictions or conflicts within globalisation – we’re effectively preventing one form of globalisation (flying) because of another emerging global norm – the consensus around the need to take action on climate change.
It’s a great example of the power of social movements – the UK government DID NOT take into account the climate impact of the Heathrow third runway in its initial development report, and it was a legal charity ‘Plan B’ which took them to the court of appeal, which then declared the government was acting illegally.
NB this isn’t an example of a global law – the Paris agreement is a treaty, the UK government voluntarily ratified it, making it UK law, and that’s why it’s binding – it requires the Nation State to have made it illegal to NOT consider the carbon impact of development projects.
Hence it’s debatable whether this kind of anti-development trend is going to become a truly global norm going forwards – the U.S. and China are hardly likely to ratify the Paris agreements, for example.
NB – we might still get more airport capacity, just not at Heathrow. Birmingham, following HS2 is one possibility for future airport expansion.
And pollution up north matters less than in London, so more planes up there probably wouldn’t be illegal, let alone a catastrophe.
Sources/ find out more
The Guardian – third runway ruled illegal.