At the beginning of the year, as Australia burned, animals were incinerated in their millions and its denialist Government dug further into their bunker of lies and misinformation, many hearts bled over the spiraling darkness of a new decade.
But the climate movement doesn’t give up. The climate movement digs in, dusts itself off and carries on fighting. And years of hard campaigning are suddenly paying off. We have just had the third victory for the climate in a week.
Following the abandonment of the carbon-munching Teck mine in Canada, the cancelling of drilling by Equinor in pristine waters in Australia, there is a major victory to report from the UK.
Yesterday, over a decade of dedicated campaigning paid off, when the High Court in London ruled that highly controversial plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport were “illegal”, due to the fact that the British Government had not adequately taken climate change, and specifically its commitments under the Paris Agreement, into account when approving the runway.
The expansion of Heathrow has been on the cards for decades, as the airline industry pushed for endless growth of air travel, ignoring the growing climate crisis.
Heathrow is already one of the single largest sources of carbon emissions in the whole of the UK. The additional third runway would have meant around 700 extra flights per day. The industry tried to argue that expansion of the airport was compatible with the UK’s climate commitments, but this argument always held as much water as a leaky sieve.
Despite this, two years ago, the British parliament voted unanimously to approve the latest plans. The decision was challenged by local campaigners and Friends of the Earth, amongst others. They challenged on the grounds that the project went against legal duties to contribute to sustainable development and avoid climate breakdown.
And yesterday, in an historic ruling, the court agreed with them in one important respect: the government has a legal duty to take climate commitments under the Paris Agreement into account when planning new airport infrastructure.
The court ruled the government broke the law by not considering the 2015 UN Paris Agreement, nor the full climate impacts of a third runway.
Will Rundle, head of legal at the environmental group, called the ruling “an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.” He labelled the victory “one of the most important environmental law cases in this country for over a generation.”
The solicitor working on the appeal, Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, added: “The Court of Appeal concluded that there was absolutely no legal means by which the Government could ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement”.
Geraldine Nicholson, from local campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “This is the final nail in the coffin for Heathrow expansion. We now need to make sure the threat of a third runway does not come back.”
The ruling has national and international ramifications. As the Guardian noted: “The court’s ruling is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris climate agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high-carbon projects.”
Another campaigner who has been fighting the airport expansion for fifteen years, Leo Murray, from the climate charity, Possible, called the legal ruling a “turning point in the climate struggle.”
Murray added: “It is difficult to overstate the significance of this decision. Heathrow airport is a bastion of the global fossil fuel economy, so the symbolism alone of this defeat will resonate loudly around the world, giving courage to the movement fighting for a livable future – while striking fear in the hearts of the corporate fossil interests still determined to profit while the planet burns.”