Today the UK Supreme Court ruled in favour of Heathrow in the case concerning the airport's controversial third runway.
The judgment comes at the time of considerable pressure for the aviation industry due to Covid-19, with many airports, including Heathrow scaling down rather than expanding their operations. The airport itself has not indicated whether or when it would proceed with the planning process for the third runway.
Apart from the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, the ruling should also be read in light of The Sixth Carbon Budget published by the Committee on Climate Change earlier this month, which asserts that aviation will generate "significant remaining positive emissions by 2050" and achieve Net Zero only by GHG removal. Likewise, the UK Government's Nationally Determined Contributions communicated on 12 December 2020 specifically exclude aviation emissions from the country's GHG reduction target of at least 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
All of this comes at a time when the aviation industry itself shows a great will to advance into a decarbonised future - this past Saturday, British Airways announced its partnership with ZeroAvia, a rapidly growing start-up developing hydrogen-powered passenger planes, which completed its first hydrogen-fuelled commercial flight in September 2020. The success of this partnership may be instrumental in driving more ambitious commitments from the aviation industry itself. However, only time will tell whether hydrogen aviation will make the expansion of Heathrow Airport less of a controversy.
The UK’s top court ruled that the government had acted lawfully in its decision to favour a third runway at Heathrow and had taken proper account of the UK's commitments as represented in the 2016 Paris agreement on climate change, when deciding whether to build a new runway.