Legal decision on Heathrow expansion is utter madness

By Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, May 2019.

Rejecting the science and the UK's legally binding carbon budgets to build a 3rd runway at Heathrow is utter madness. The new runway will be regarded as the worst decision ever made by the Department for Transport (DfT), and the ultimate signal that modern politics favours current generations over future ones. It will inevitably be cancelled as the climate crisis worsens and public pressure increases. When this happens billions of taxpayer's money will be wasted.

In the past few weeks the Scottish and Welsh Governments have declared climate emergencies. On the Today program this morning Ed Miliband suggested that we should be on a 'war footing'. The UK is on track to miss its legally binding targets set under the Climate Change Act. In coming days The Committee on Climate Change (the independent statuary body established to advise the UK Government on emissions targets) is likely to recommend that these targets be made tougher to keep us below 1.5 degrees warming. Heathrow Airport is the single biggest source of CO2 emissions in the UK. The DfT wants to double air travel by 2050. There really couldn't be a clearer disconnect between the science and Government policy.

Justin Francis, Responsible Travel CEO reacts to Heathrow decision from Responsible Travel on Vimeo.

Furthermore the decision is bad economics. The Stern Report estimated that climate change will reduce GDP by 5 to 25%. Aviation is already a very heavily subsidised industry as aviation fuel is exempt from tax and duty. The tax subsidy in the UK is 6.6bn, or 240 per household whether you fly or not. Making a massive investment in this already heavily subsidised and highly polluting industry makes no economic sense. Instead the money should be invested in making the UK a world leader in electric and other forms of decarbonised air travel.

Finally, there is a major social justice issue here. Nearly 50% of the UK population doesn't fly. A remarkable 70% of flights are taken by just 15% of people. An expanded Heathrow will provide no benefit to a large proportion of our population, and yet whether we fly or not all of us, and our children and grandchildren, will suffer the consequences of global warming. Insanity reaches new heights when we discover that most of the beneficiaries of an expanded Heathrow won't even be British. The New Economics Foundation estimates that 75% of the passengers using an expanded Heathrow by 2040 will not be from the UK. They will be international transfers.

At Responsible Travel we vehemently oppose a 3rd runway at Heathrow, read more in our article. We'll be ready to join future protests. Our strategy would be to seek to reduce demand for aviation via a new Green Flying Duty, and to ring fence the money raised for Research & Development into electric and other decarbonised forms of air travel.

Written by Justin Francis
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