Heathrow ruling raises climate bar for infrastructure projects

The Court of Appeal’s recent, unanimous, ruling that the government’s decision to expand Heathrow airport was unlawful has wide implications for all decision-makers across both the public and private sectors.

The 27 February judgment found that the secretary of state had failed to take into account the effect of Heathrow’s expansion on the UK’s climate change obligations under the Paris Agreement. 

The secretary of state had submitted that section 5(8) of the Planning Act 2008 – which states that the reasons for the Airports National Policy Statement “must (in particular) include an explanation of how the policy set out in the statement takes account of government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change” – disclosed parliament’s clear intention that only existing domestic legal obligations and policy commitments needed to be considered. It was also argued that it was “impossible” to assess and take into account unsettled future policies and commitments under the Paris Agreement. 

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