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How To Avoid The Bulldozers

February 28, 2020 4:24 PM
By Stuart Smith

Yesterday the Court of Appeal in London ruled that an expansion to Heathrow airport was unlawful because a former UK Government Transport Secretary had failed to take into account the Paris Agreement on climate change when he was drawing up the National Policy Statement approving a third runway at the airport.

Bulldozer / buildingThe government has decided not to appeal the decision, which means Boris Johnson can avoid his 2015 pledge to lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent the runway being built. So no broken promises from the Prime Minister. Heathrow has said it is going to take the case to the Supreme Court, however, so Johnson isn't yet fully out of the woods.

Naturally the verdict has excited a lot of anger from those who think that it is rather embarrassing that the UK is only thinking about building one extra runway, rather than expanding a number of its airports in order to keep up with global demand and other countries' ability to answer big questions on aviation capacity quickly.

British politicians have a tendency to avoid answering such questions at all, hoping that their successor will be the one who has to make the controversial decision. They also, as today's verdict shows, don't always join up policies: how can you commit to reducing carbon emissions so dramatically and yet also press ahead with airport expansion? Perhaps everyone hoped that someone else would answer that question, too.

It's certainly the case that the government is far more prepared to talk a good game on the environment than it is to square with the voters about what achieving net zero will actually entail for their lives in a way that goes far beyond their ability to fly.