An aeroplane coming in to land at Heathrow airport

WWF joins legal fight against Heathrow expansion

Conservation charity says third runway will make 2050 zero carbon emissions target much harder to achieve.
17 October 2019 , Katie Coyne

A third runway at Heathrow airport violates the rights of children and future generations because they will have to pay the cost, says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

WWF argued that building the runway will make the Government’s net zero carbon emissions by 2050 target much more difficult to meet, and has now joined the legal fight against the airport expansion, which went back to court today.

A third runway will add 700 aircraft to the skies daily, a 50% increase.

WWF head of climate change Gareth Redmond-King said: “If you build a third runway at Heathrow, you increase all the surface and air transport, you are making it much harder to achieve what is already a very difficult thing to achieve [net zero carbon emissions by 2050].

“It puts the risks and the costs on to future generations because the longer we take to take action, the more it costs and the greater the impact.”

WWF felt that its argument around the rights of children and future generations had not been made and strengthened the case against the expansion, and the judge allowed it to join the court case.

Those already opposing the runway through the courts include environmental charities Friends of the Earth (FoE), Greenpeace and Plan B, as well as the London Mayor, and the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Hammersmith & Fulham, plus the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead.

In May this year, the high court dismissed the case against the Government’s decision to allow the building of the third runway. But today (17 October) campaigners went to the Court of Appeal. The hearing is expected to last six days.

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, representing FoE, said the difficulties the expansion would make to achieving the net zero carbon emissions target – set after the first court hearing – strengthened the argument that the expansion goes against the government’s own climate change goals.

Part of the reason the judges dismissed the case earlier this year was that it relied on the Government’s commitment to the Paris agreement to tackle climate change, which was not part of UK law.

Smith added: “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.”

Will Rundle, head of legal at FoE, 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.”

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