06th October 2020

Supreme Court to begin hearing on Heathrow climate case

On Wednesday morning (7 October), the Supreme Court will begin hearing an appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision in February that plans to expand Heathrow Airport were unlawful. 

The Court of Appeal concluded that the former Transport Minister Chris Grayling’s decision to treat the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as “not relevant” was “a basic defect in the decision-making process”.

Jorge E. Viñuales, the Harold Samuel professor of law and environmental policy at the University of Cambridge, said of the ruling at the time:

“It’s a very significant symbolic endorsement of the Paris agreement at a time when that’s really welcome, because it’s navigating difficult waters.”

The decision appeared to mark the end of the long-running legal battle over Heathrow when Boris Johnson told Parliament on 4 March:

“[W]e will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change”.

However, Heathrow Airport Limited, the commercial company that hopes to profit from expansion, is pursuing the appeal, even without the backing of the Government and even with the aviation industry in disarray as a result of COVID-19.

Because of Covid restrictions, the hearing will be conducted over video-conference, and will be live-streamed from 10.30am.

Tim Crosland, Director of Plan B, the climate litigation charity which was one of the successful claimants before the Court of Appeal, said:

“The Government has distanced itself from the sacked Minister Chris Grayling’s position that the Paris Agreement was “not relevant” to the decision to expand Heathrow Airport. That’s not because the Government is genuinely committed to the Paris Agreement. Its actions tell a different story. But it can at least see a problem in admitting it’s not taking the Paris Agreement seriously, given that maintaining the Paris Temperature Limit is vital to our collective future and given that it is chairing the next round of UN talks at COP26. Heathrow Airport Limited, however, has no such concerns.”

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