02:08, October 17 59 0 theguardian.com

2019-10-17 02:08:04
Heathrow expansion violates climate rights of children, say lawyers

The multibillion-pound expansion of Heathrow violates the rights of children and future generations, who will face the greatest impact of the climate crisis, lawyers will argue at the court of appeal in London.

Fresh legal challenges on Thursday by environmental NGOs, councils and the mayor of London against the construction of a third runway will be presented during a five-day hearing.

The high court ruled in spring that the government’s decision to allow a third runway was lawful. Since then, it has signed into law a commitment for the country to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory adviser, previously warned aviation was likely to be the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by then.

Lawyers will argue for the first time that the rights of children were not taken into account by the government when it approved the third runway.

The court has allowed the World Wide Fund for Nature to submit documents arguing the planned expansion violates the rights of future generations under the UN convention on the rights of the child.

The intervention by WWF comes after young people spearheaded the biggest climate change protest in history last month, and follows Greta Thunberg’s challenge to world leaders that their inaction was letting down a generation.

Debbie Tripley, WWF’s director of environmental policy, said: “Children have a right to have a voice in this … particularly where there is very clearly a disproportionate burden that will fall on them in relation to future climate impacts.”

Friends of the Earth, which is leading the challenge on climate grounds, said since the previous court hearing in March, many things had changed.

“The government has legislated for net-zero carbon emissions under the Climate Change Act, which our client believes would have almost no chance of being met if the expansion of Heathrow was to go ahead,” said Rowan Smith, a lawyer at Leigh Day representing Friends of the Earth.

“It gives further weight to our client’s arguments that the expansion goes against the government’s own climate change goals.”

Will Rundle, the head of legal affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government has admitted that it did not consider the Paris agreement when agreeing to Heathrow expansion. We hope the court of appeal now agrees with us that this is not sustainable development and ignores the needs of future generations.”

An additional runway would put a further 700 planes in the air each day – a 50% rise on the current traffic in and out of the airport.

A coalition of local authorities – Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames, Hillingdon, Hammersmith and Fulham – joined by the mayor and Greenpeace, will argue the government’s decision to approve the expansion was flawed because ministers failed to properly consider the full impact on noise levels, health and the environment. A decision is expected in December.

Ravi Govindia, the leader of Wandsworth council, said: “The third runway will have devastating consequences for the health of Londoners. It is also becoming clearer by the day that expansion will play havoc with the government’s zero carbon targets.”

In documents published as part of the consultation process, Heathrow said it should “not come at any cost”.

The airport outlined plans for low-emissions zones and congestion charges to stem local air pollution. The proposals involve a phased expansion up to 2050, with terminal buildings added after the runway as passenger numbers reach 140 million a year.

The M25, Britain’s busiest motorway, will be moved up to 150 metres west and run through a tunnel under the new runway and taxiways. A temporary bridge across the motorway will be built for construction vehicles.

Heathrow has said the expansion will cost £14bn but critics suggest the true figure will be close to £30bn.

Boris Johnson, who threatened to lie in front of the bulldozers, has said he will watch the legal challenges with a lively interest.

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