Thursday, 15 January 2009

Why a Third runway at Heathrow would be a mistake

It is widely expected that later today the Government will give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow.   It is expected that this will eventually lead to an extra 600 flights every day over London.
 
For obvious reasons there are considerable local objections to these plans, including the fact that a village of 2000 people is likely to have to be demolished to make way for the expanded airport.   There will also be still more congestion and pollution in the local area.
 
But on a national and international scale, the objection is even greater.   Probably the number one challenge facing us is the need to avert dangerous climate change by reversing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.   The UK has just passed what looks like a relatively strong climate change bill which sets ambitious targets for 80% cuts in emissions by 2050.  But any national leadership we might have shown on climate change will be blown out of the water if we allow extensive airport expansion (with the Heathrow decision coming hot on the heels of plans to expand Stansted, announced only a few months ago).
 
The Government argues that the new runway will be used only by the most fuel efficient planes.  But these would be coming in anyway and are still big contributors to global warming. 
 
The other argument that the Government uses is that aeroplane emissions are part of an EU-wide 'emissions trading scheme' and therefore increases in emissions in one sector would have to be matched by cuts in another.  But this assumes that cuts on the scale needed in other sectors are deliverable.  The more we let air travel emissions expand, the more we have to contract emissions from cars, from homes, from businesses and from power generation.   The goals in these sectors already look demanding and letting air travel get the lion's share will only make matters worse.
 
The fact that the Government is giving the go-ahead for major airport expansion shows that their rhetoric on climate change simply cannot be taken seriously.

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