Today’s landmark decision by the UK Court of Appeal that the British Government’s planned expansion at Heathrow was illegal on climate change grounds (1) has been warmly welcomed by An Taisce.

"The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State in the preparation of the National Policy Statement and an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not”, Lord Justice Lindblom told the Court of Appeal.

The court made it clear in its ruling that ignoring the (2015) Paris Agreement on climate change was illegal. While it is unclear whether or not the decision will be appealed to the UK Supreme Court, it represents a major victory for climate campaigners against aviation, a sector which is rapidly expanding its negative environmental impacts around the world.

While strongly applauding the coalition of environmental groups who took the Heathrow case, An Taisce would also like to acknowledge the ongoing legal efforts of Friends of the Irish Environment and Climate Case Ireland, in which citizens are seeking to hold their government accountable for its role in knowingly contributing to dangerous levels of climate change.

In 2018, almost 33 million passengers used Dublin airport with some 226,000 aircraft movements in and out of the airport (2). In 2015, the passenger numbers stood at 25 million, so in the four years since the Paris Agreement, passenger numbers have risen by a third.

“We know from the science that global carbon emissions have to fall sharply year on year across all sectors in order to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous and irreversible climate thresholds”, said an An Taisce spokesperson.

“The government is aware of these absolute scientific limits, yet it continues to ‘look the other way’ on plans for airport expansion that are, in the climate emergency, both reckless and absolutely unjustifiable”, the spokesperson added.

In a report issued last summer by the eNGO Transport & Environment the Irish State’s commitments on aviation were deemed “problematic” (3) and said to be based on dubious offsets. An Taisce believes the only fair and equitable way to address the emissions crisis arising from aviation is to close the long-standing loopholes that allow aviation kerosene to be exempt from tax and duties, and to also levy VAT on all airline tickets.

These two measures would only begin to address the ‘free rider’ problem where air travel is not paying for the damage inflicted by the sector. Further, An Taisce calls on the government to consider reintroducing the modest air travel tax scrapped in 2014 by then transport minister, Leo Varadkar. This populist move is all the more indefensible in light of the climate emergency. In Ryanair, Ireland is home to the first non-coal company to join Europe’s top ten carbon polluters (4), a development which went without comment by the Government last year. Millions in taxpayer funds are used annually to keep airports open, even where they have not even been providing passenger flights for years (5). Are these developments to be welcomed in the era of a climate emergency?

Aviation is a valuable resource that needs to be used prudently and taxed in proportion to the environmental damage it inflicts, An Taisce concluded.

Contact: John Gibbons, PRO, An Taisce Climate Committee (087-2332 689)

NOTES

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/heathrow-expansion-court-of-appeal-ruling-boris-johnson-third-runway-a9362581.html

  2. https://www.iaa.ie/docs/default-source/publications/corporate-publications/customer-care-reports/iaa-customer-care-report-12-02-19.pdf

  3. https://www.irishtimes.com/business/transport-and-tourism/ireland-would-face-multibillion-eu-fines-over-emissions-target-failure-1.3924909

  4. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/01/ryanair-new-coal-airline-enters-eu-top-10-emitters-list

  5. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/shane-ross-says-refusing-waterford-airport-5m-would-have-been-death-knell-1.3925778