Environmental case for new Heathrow runway has 'Airbus-sized holes'

The Airport Commission's recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport has been labelled a "hugely damaging decision" and a "backward step on climate change" by green groups.

Friends of the Earth claimed that the Government's case for expanding UK airport capacity is

Friends of the Earth claimed that the Government's case for expanding UK airport capacity is "extremely weak".

The Airport Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, released a report this morning, recommending that a new runway at Heathrow should be built because it would offer “the greatest strategic and economic benefits” compared to other London airports.

The report also said the new runway should come with severe restrictions to reduce the environmental and noise effects and would be therefore be compatible with UK climate change and air pollution targets.

However environmentalists were quick to dismiss the Commission's calculations.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: "When it comes to carbon emissions the Davies’ analysis has holes big enough to fly an Airbus through.

“His claim that a new runway could be compatible with the UK's climate targets is based on the unrealistic assumptions like the need for a 6,600% rise in carbon taxes, rose-tinted estimates about improvements in aircraft efficiency, and false solutions like biofuels. 

"This is just a smokescreen to hide the obvious fact that a new runway will almost certainly derail our legally-binding climate targets. In the year the world is coming together to tackle climate change, we should be talking about how to manage demand, not where to store up a new carbon bomb."

Laughing stock

Air travel emits more than 650 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year - nearly the amount emitted by 136 million cars. The aviation industry has committed to hold its carbon emissions steady after 2020 and cut net carbon emissions to half of the 2005 level by 2050.

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton commented: “The UK will be a laughing stock if it turns up at crucial climate talks in Paris later this year, claiming global leadership while at home having nodded through new runways, killed its onshore wind industry and foisted fracking on communities that don't want it.”

Friends of the Earth also claimed that the Government’s case for expanding airport capacity at all is “extremely weak”.

Local impact

The Aviation Environment Federation, which represents community groups around the UK’s airports, said that all options considered by the Commission would “breach CO2 limits and have unacceptable local environmental impacts”.

Cait Hewitt, AEF’s deputy director said: “The recommendation to expand Heathrow will be fiercely resisted by local authorities, MPs, communities and environmental organisations. Every government that has ever considered Heathrow expansion has ruled it out once the full scale of the environmental impacts has become clear.”

Hewitt added: “The UK has a legal obligation to meet EU air quality legal limits and despite its last minute consultation on the issue the Airports Commission still cannot say confidently whether or not expansion would be legal.”

Trade links

From a business perspective, the CBI claimed that growing airport capacity in the South East is critical to the whole of the UK’s economic future.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “It simply isn’t an optional 'nice to do'. Each day the Government delays taking the decision, the UK loses out as our competitors reap the rewards and strengthen their trade links.”

“Creating new routes to emerging markets will open doors to trade, boosting growth, creating jobs and driving investment right across the country. Our research shows that eight new daily routes alone could boost exports by up to £1 billion a year.

Downing Street officials say they will take their time considering the report's suggestion, wanting to avoid making "a snap judgement".

Brad Allen


air quality | air travel | aviation


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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