On April 6, 2020, a British court rejected an attempt to halt a railway project on the ground that the project assessment had not adequately considered greenhouse gas emissions. The decision was affirmed on July 31.
Environmental campaigner Christopher Packham filed suit on March 27, 2020 to challenge the Secretary of State for Transport's decision to approve the HS2 rail project, a national high-speed railway network to connect London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The claimaint sought an interim injunction to prevent imminent clearance works in six different woodlands. He brought a number of claims related to a report analyzing "whether and how HS2 should proceed." The claimant alleged, among other things, that the report failed to properly account for expected greenhouse gas emissions during construction of the project; and failed to address the project's effects on greenhouse gas emissions during the period leading up to 2050, and not just in 2050 and beyond, in accordance with the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act 2008. At an April 3 hearing, the court determined that claimant did not have a realistic prospect of success; on April 6 it issued written reasons for its decision. The court rejected all claims, including the claim based on greenhouse gas emissions.
The court first explained that the report at issue did adequately consider greenhouse gas emissions by assessing the short-term impacts of construction as well as the longer-term effects of providing a mode of transport that is less carbon-intensive than alternatives, such as aviation. The court also rejected the claimant's assertion that the report misrepresented a study by the project's "nominated undertaker" by failing to convey that construction emissions would not be at the "low emissions" end of the possible range, reasoning that the study simply gave a range of possible greenhouse gas emissions that the report fairly summarized. The court concluded that the defendants, therefore, did not fail to take into account a relevant factor that they were legally required to consider.
Second, the court dismissed the claimant's argument that both the report assessing H2S and the decision to approve the project failed to address the importance of greenhouse gas emissions in the period leading up to 2050, which is referred to in the Paris Agreement. The court reasoned that the report did consider the effects of the project before and after 2050 resulting from construction and the first 60 years of operation. The court distinguished Plan B Earth v. Secretary of State, in which the Secretary of State admitted that he had not considered the Paris Agreement in approving the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
On July 31, 2020, the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal, reasoning that none of the claimant's claims were arguable.