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Heathrow expansion ruling is good news for the planet

4 min read

Heathrow and the wider aviation industry should take today's decision as a wake up call, writes Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Andy McDonald MP. 

The decision of the Court of Appeal is good news for the planet.

I made the case at the time of the vote in the House of Commons on the Aviation National Policy Statement (NPS) in June 2018, that expanding Heathrow was inconsistent with our climate change obligations. That’s why I, together with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and many others, voted against the NPS and it’s clear that the Court of Appeal agree.

Prime Minister Johnson has never been a fan and perhaps he may now wish to reflect that sustaining the very independent judiciary he so derided in the prorogation pantomime, and that has now come to his rescue, might not be such a bad idea after all.

The critical part of the Judgment was that the Secretary of State, my old nemesis Chris Grayling, acted unlawfully in failing to take the Paris accord into consideration. It was of course totally illogical but entirely typical. What was the point of agreeing to Paris if it was simply to be ignored as not being relevant UK law? All that told the world was that we didn’t really mean it.

Heathrow Airport Limited have put their heart and soul, and very considerable financial resources, into getting the 3rd runway built, but the agenda has been slipping away from them ever since the NPS was passed.

Not only was Labour successful in getting parliament to declare a climate emergency, the Government itself responded by amending the Climate Change Act to achieve net zero by 2050. Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg articulated the growing concerns of people across the world that we were heading headlong towards a tipping point from which the globe could never recover.

I said the NPS should be reviewed in light of those events and the overwhelming warnings of science. The Government didn’t listen. They abrogated their responsibilities and left the heavy lifting to the courts. That’s not leadership.

Heathrow and the wider aviation industry should take this as a wake up call. They should stop taking people for fools.

As Chris Stark head of the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change has said: “There is no such thing as green aviation” The irritating mantra that “aviation is not the enemy, carbon is” should stop. You can’t have one without the other. And they should stop trying to bank technological advances in aviation that either do not yet exist or will not be sufficiently deployed any time soon to make the significant reductions in emissions that are needed. The argument that if we don’t increase emissions, Paris and Schiphol will, is quite frankly disgraceful.

It has echoes of the armament arguments. If we don’t sell weapons to enable wealthy nations to wreak havoc and kill thousands of innocent people, then somebody else will. Here proponents are effectively saying if we don’t put more emissions into the air someone else will and they’ll make a fortune so we should beat them to it. Really? 

It baffles me how the Tories make a virtue out of not joining the dots. We need look no further than the vast swathes of our country currently underwater to see the damage of global warming. It staggers me that they ever thought expanding Heathrow was justifiable.

What a responsible Government should do straight away, is immediately revoke and rescind the NPS and commit to managing aviation demand by, amongst other things, bringing in a frequent flyer levy as I have previously argued for, and make a real commitment to secure a major modal shift from road and air to rail and sustainable local transport.

Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this year, and given we are going to miss the next carbon budget targets by miles, it’s time for the Tory Government to wake up to the climate reality and show some real leadership.


Andy McDonald is the Labour Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough and the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. 

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