Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth, a British nonprofit with the mission to realize the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, filed suit against the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling (“the Secretary”) alleging inadequate consideration of climate change impacts in regards to the expansion of Heathrow International Airport. (Additional claimants participated in the suit, but these two groups took lead on the climate-related claims.) Claimants argued that the Secretary’s national policy statement supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport violated the Planning Act 2008 (“the 2008 Act”) and the Human Rights Act 1998. The case went before the High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division Administrative Court which refused all six climate change-related claims filed by the two environmental organizations.
Environmental Claimants argued that since the 2008 Act requires the Secretary to pursue the objective of sustainable development and consider the desirability of mitigating and adapting to climate change, it further gives rise to implicit obligations to consider the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (“the CCC”), the government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and commitment to review its national climate change targets in light of the Paris Agreement. Claimants maintained that the Secretary violated these implicit obligations by supporting the airport expansion without adequate consideration of the insufficiency of the current UK 2050 climate target (“2050 Target”), the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, the CCC’s recommendations to review the 2050 Target, and government’s recent agreement to review the 2050 Target. Accordingly, they asserted the Secretary’s actions were both ultra vires and irrational. Plaintiffs additionally alleged violations of the Human Rights Act 1998. Claimants sought declaratory relief, specifically a declaration that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully in violation of section 5 of the 2008 Act.
The court did not find that the Secretary had any obligations to consider the Paris Agreement climate targets, the science underlying those climate targets, or a more stringent potential future climate target necessary for meeting the Paris Agreement. The court was not persuaded by arguments that the 2008 Act’s climate action goals could be interpreted to make obligations under the Human Rights Act of 1998 inclusive of the Paris Agreement goals. The court found that the Secretary had fulfilled his obligations to consider existing domestic climate targets and acted within his discretion.
The Court of Appeal has granted plaintiffs the permission to appeal the lower court decision. The judge wrote that the "[i]mportance of the issues raised in these and the related proceedings is obvious." The appeal hearing is scheduled for October 17 and 18, 2019.