Global Britain plans forced to take a back seat over climate

LONDON — Looks like it will still be Little England for now.

A courts decision Thursday that plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport didnt properly take into account the U.K.s climate targets puts into jeopardy the countrys ambition to become a freewheeling, free-trading nation that transcends its immediate neighborhood.

The ruling, met predictably with dismay from industry and celebration among climate activists, leaves the government in a bind. U.K. policymakers have been some of the most ambitious in Europe on climate goals. But they face a treacherous post-Brexit economy for which a third runway at the Continents biggest airport was an insurance policy.

No one better encapsulates that dilemma than Boris Johnson. He was one of the most vocal critics of a third runway before becoming prime minister, when he served a constituency in West London battered by the noise and pollution of flights every 45 seconds.

Now he is entrusted with the responsibility of navigating an uncertain economic future for the U.K. beyond this year, and has been tacit about the project.

“The third runway was approved solely because of Brexit” — Industry official

Heathrow said Thursday it will appeal. But it wont get the governments backing, which said it will not challenge the courts decision.

“Expanding Heathrow, Britains biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the prime ministers vision of Global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardizing the planets future,” an airport spokesperson said Thursday.

“We take seriously our commitments on the environment, clean air and reducing carbon emissions. We will carefully consider this complex judgment and set out our next steps in due course,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Flights vs. climate

Heathrow saw 80 million passengers pass through the airport last year, and cant carry many more — its operating at 98 percent capacity. The hope of the last British government was that another runway would allow an additional 260,000 flights, many of which would allow access for faraway countries, whose trading potential would be unlocked.

The U.K.s own study says a new runway would add £1 billion to the U.K. economy every year for the next 60 years. Based on those estimates, the British parliament in 2018 voted strongly in favor of the project. (Johnson, then foreign secretary, was in Afghanistan at the time and missed the vote.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been a critic of Heathrow expansion | Pool photo by Tim Clarke/Getty Images

“The third runway was approved solely because of Brexit,” said one industry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But climate policy — buoyed by protests and more frequent bouts of extreme weather — has shot up as a political priority in tandem.

The government in 2019 was proud to present itself as the “first major economy in the world” to legally require itself to reach climate neutrality by 2050. Despite wrangling over deregulation in the Brexit negotiations, the U.K. has promised that plan will not be affected by its departure from the EU.

Thursdays ruling — which set a legal precedent that all major infrastructure projects need to be evaluated for their potential to harm or bolster the U.K.s climate goals — has in effect prioritized the countrys climate targets over its economic concerns.


The judgment — which the government has effectively accepted in announcing it will not appeal — requires the government to undertake a review to figure out how to make expansion compatible with its climate goals.

There is likely to be economic fallout in the meantime, as investors mull pulling out of the Heathrow runway project altogether.

“Theres no global Britain without Heathrow expansion. Its as simple as that” — Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye

“It doesnt maRead More – Source