Controversial plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport have been halted after a “ground-breaking” court ruling.

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has ruled that the UK Government’s plans to expand Europe’s busiest airport was “unlawful” and did not take climate commitments into account.

The case was brought by Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups, several west London councils and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Friends of the Earth said in a press release that the case showed the importance of the legal system to “check the clear abuse of state power by the government.”

Heathrow is already the busiest airport in the world with two runways – and would be the busiest in the world by 2030 if the third runway is built | Photo: John Cameron, Unsplash.

For the first time, the Paris Agreement was cited in court as the reason for stopping the expansion of a project.

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth said: “Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go-ahead. The Court has said very clearly that was illegal.”

Heathrow Airports Ltd has said that it would challenge the decision, but the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that government would not appeal.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: “This government is absolutely committed to airport expansion, but, we want to make sure that expansion is environmentally friendly.”

MP’s had previously voted in support of the expansion in 2018, though Boris Johnson was in Afghanistan at the time. Before he became Prime Minister, Johnson pledged to “lie down in front of bulldozers and stop the building” in 2015.

The proposed £14bn third runway could, according to the appeal court judges, still go ahead – as long as it fits with the UK’s climate policy.

A government plan set out last year stated that the UK would have net zero greenhouse gases by 2050 – making it the first major nation to propose such a target.

The UK reassessed its climate policies in 2019 with help from The Committee on Climate Change | Photo: tccc.org.uk

These targets were “not taken into account by the government”, according to the judgement of the court, which said that the ANPS (Airports National Policy Statement) went against firm policy commitments on climate change under the Paris Agreement.

Flights currently contribute to 2.5% of global carbon emissions, and new research from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that emissions from air travel are rising 1.5 times as fast as initial U.N. estimates.

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