Heathrow decision will “absolutely” affect projects around the world, says expert

The UK Court of Appeal’s ruling this week that a third runway at Heathrow airport is unlawful on environmental grounds will spark similar challenges to infrastructure schemes around the world, an expert has said.

Airport new-builds or expansions, power plants, mining projects and even motorways will "absolutely" be affected as a result of the surprise decision, said Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh, who is assistant professor of public international law at the Netherlands’ Leiden University, and author of a recent book, State Responsibility, Climate Change and Human Rights.

Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh is assistant professor of public international law at the Netherlands’ Leiden University

"It’s very emboldening for environmental and indigenous groups and residents who want to challenge these types of projects. If it can be done in the UK, it can be done in many other countries," she told GCR.

"The UK isn’t necessarily the easiest country to pursue a case like this because international law is not automatically incorporated into domestic law. In a lot of countries it is much easier to rely on international law."

She said legal scholars in China believe cases could be brought even there.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said the government’s carbon-reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement constituted de facto government policy.

The government said it would not challenge the decision, but Heathrow said it would.

The case was brought by local authorities, the Mayor of London, and environmental groups including Greenpeace.

Signed by 189 countries in 2016, the Paris agreement sets a goal to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

"To meet that goal, a really dramatic departure from business as usual is needed," said Wewerinke-Singh.

"Very many high-carbon plans cannot go ahead to meet the targets. Even if countries meet the pledges made under the Paris agreement, we’re still on track for more than three degrees of warming.

"This judgement is so important because there’s now a court intervening, saying these goals have to be taken seriously."

Top image: Heathrow, 2018 (Mike Peel/ BY-SA 4.0) 

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