Suing For Survival
6th March 2020
Our legal action against the government aims to shut down fossil fuels
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th March 2020
Our survival is not an afterthought. The defence of the living planet cannot be tacked retrospectively onto business as usual. Yet this is how almost all governments operate. They slap the word “sustainable” on damaging projects they have already approved, then insist this means they’ve gone green. If we are to survive and prosper, everything must change. Every decision should begin with the question of what the planet can withstand.
This means that any discussion about new infrastructure should begin with ecological constraints. The figures are stark. A paper published in Nature
But everywhere special interests dominate. Construction projects are driven, above all, by the lobbying of the construction industry, consultancies and financiers. Gigantic and destructive schemes, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway
But last week, something momentous happened. The decision to build a scheme with vast financial backing and terrible environmental impacts was struck down by the Court of Appeal. The judges decided that government policy, on which planning permission for a third runway at Heathrow was based, had failed to take account of the UK’s climate commitments, and was therefore unlawful
The Heathrow decision stands as a massive and crucial precedent. Now we must use it to insist that governments everywhere put our survival first, and the demands of corporate lobbyists last. To this end, with the Good Law Project and Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, I’m pursuing a similar claim
On Tuesday, we delivered a “letter before action” to the Treasury solicitor. We’ve given the government 21 days to accept our case and change its policy to reflect the climate commitments agreed by Parliament. If it fails to do so, we shall issue proceedings in the High Court to have the policy declared unlawful. We’ll need money, so we’ve launched a crowdfunding appeal
It’s hard to see how the government could resist our case. The Heathrow judgement hung on the government’s national policy statement on airports
These outdated policy statements create a presumption in favour of new fossil fuel plants. Once a national policy statement has been published, there is little objectors can do to prevent damaging projects from going ahead. In approving the Drax plant, the secretary of state for business and energy at the time (Andrea Leadsom) insisted that the policy statement came first, regardless of the climate impacts
While we are challenging the government’s energy policies, another group – the Transport Action Network – is about to challenge its road building schemes on the same basis
Transport emissions have been rising
The perverse and outdated national policy statement locks into place such damaging projects as the A303 works around Stonehenge, the A27 Arundel scheme, the Lower Thames crossing, the Port of Liverpool access road, the Silvertown tunnel in London and the Wensum Link road in Norfolk. A government seeking to protect the lives of current and future generations would immediately strike down the policy that supports these projects, and replace it with one that emphasised walking, cycling and public transport.
A third action has been launched by Chris Packham and the law firm Leigh Day,challenging HS2
Already, the Heathrow decision is resonating around the world. Now we need to drive its implications home, by suing for survival. If we can oblige governments to resist the demands of corporate lobbyists and put life before profit, humanity might just stand a chance.