Climate Change and Heathrow

Climate change – an inconvenient truth   

Climate change is without doubt the biggest environmental issue. It is arguably the biggest issue and biggest threat of all for mankind. More on climate change background.

While action is being taken in some fields to reduce emissions, eg with solar energy, aviation is making no contribution. Its emissions are rising, there are no plans to reduce them and there is active opposition to action from the industry and its supporters. For example, the proposed ‘emissions trading system’ has been put on the back burner.

The UK government and the Department for Transport (DfT) are complicit in this ‘climate obstruction’.  Looking through the verbiage, it is clear from the NPS (National Policy Statement) (paras 5.69-5.82) that the government has no intent of addressing the challenge of aviation and climate change

Heathrow expansion will significantly increase CO2 emissions (as compared with no third runway).  The government has estimated the impacts, but not mentioned them in the NPS. This is materially misleading for anyone wanting to understand the effect of Heathrow expansion.

See article from the Aviation Environment Federation  which explains this in much more detail. It shows how the government has, to all intents and purposes, ignored the advice of its own advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). CCC advised on an upper emissions limit of 37.5 million tonnes of CO2 would just about be compatible the UK 2050 emissions target enshrined in the Climate Act. But CCC noted that this would place an even greater burden on other sectors of the economy to reduce emissions.

The Airports Commission (AC) back in 2015 took a more honest approach than the DfT. AC took one scenario – ‘Carbon Traded’ – where emissions from UK aviation are uncontrolled but where a world-wide ‘emissions trading system’ would offset the extra emission from UK aviation.  But recognising that this ‘magic bullet’ might not materialise, AC devised another scenario. This is ‘Carbon Capped’ whereby expansion is limited such that the CCC’s UK limit is not breached. The effect was profound. Growth in UK air travel is considerably reduced and while a new runway at Heathrow would still fill up, it would be largely at the expense of growth of regional airports. Furthermore, the net economic benefit for the UK is reduced by £10.4 billion.

The DfT’s response to this embarrassing conclusion of the Airports Commission was two-fold. Firstly, to reduce the estimate of CO2 emissions at 2050 so that it exceeds the CCC limit by a much smaller amount. Just too convenient? Secondly, to speculate how emissions might be reduced further to come within the CCC limit. But without any firm plans to actually do anything or any enforcement. See article from the Aviation Environment Federation  which explains this in much more detail (and more politely).

The government now  totally ignores the fact that aircraft at altitude emit greenhouse gases other than CO2. Estimates of the impact vary a great deal because the science is less uncertain than for CO2, but all researchers agrees that the non-CO2 impacts are considerable. A very conservative estimate is that non-CO2 emissions add an extra 60% to the impact of CO2 alone.

By this sleight of hand, the government tries to convey the impression in the NPS that there is no issue about climate change.

But the NPS does say (para 5.82):“Any increase in carbon emissions alone is not a reason to refuse development consent, unless the increase in carbon emissions resulting from the project is so significant that it would have a material impact on the ability of Government to meet its carbon reduction targets, including carbon budgets.”  All the evidence is that there would be a material impact.

Given all this, it is not entirely surprising the transport minister Chris Grayling did not even mention climate change in his address to Parliament!

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