Responsible Travel is against Heathrow 3rd runway expansion plan

Heathrow expansion is the wrong plan for aviation emissions. In June 2018, UK MPs approved plans for a third runway at Heathrow - a necessity - the government argued, for dealing with growing passenger numbers. Since 1990, CO2 emissions from UK aviation have more than doubled. The Department for Transport (DfT) predicts a more than doubling of demand for air travel by 2050 on present trends. Heathrow Airport is already the biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK, responsible for as much carbon dioxide as Croatia’s entire economy. Building new runways or airports is no way to tackle the global climate crisis we face. Instead governments should be working hard to reduce the demand for air travel based on kerosene- rather than unquestioningly increasing supply - and instead invest and commit heavily to a decarbonised future for aviation.

Heathrow terminal 4
Photo credit: Mariordo

Runaway emissions won’t get us on track
Friends of the Earth have argued that the government did not fully consider its climate crisis and sustainable development duties when it designated the National Policy Statement (NPS) which gave the go ahead to the third runway. Friends of the Earth challenged the government’s expansion decision at the High Court in March 2019, on the grounds that it would jeopadise the UK’s ability to make the very deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that are so urgently needed.

It was argued that it didn’t adequately consider the implications of the Paris Climate Agreement or the fact that the UK is not on target to meet the future legally binding carbon budgets set under the Climate Change Act. Within this overall limit, the government aims to limit aviation emissions in 2050 to 2005 levels.

However, at a time when other sectors are already making deep cuts to emissions, expanding Heathrow airport is only going to increase aviation emissions. If we are to meet our own targets set in the Climate Change Act, let alone the more ambitious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) aim to limit temperature rises to 1.5C, we need to reduce the amount we fly until air travel can be decarbonised.

Economic benefits don’t fully add up
The third runway, due for completion in 2026, is estimated to cost up to £14 billion, with further billions needed to upgrade train and road access. The UK Department of Transport (DfT) maintained that the airport expansion will add 260,000 flights a year and that these will bring economic benefits to the country.

There has been an emphasis on the need to accommodate business travellers, bringing in valuable trade. However, this is not the case - the number of business travellers is in decline across all four London airports. Some believe this is a mask for what the industry are really pushing for – an increase in leisure travellers.

Furthermore the New Economics Foundation estimates that three quarters of passengers using an expanded Heathrow by 2040 will be international transfer passengers - serving very little benefit to the UK economy. There is also evidence that the runway would lead to lower passenger numbers at regional airports.

The Stern Report estimated that the climate crisis will reduce GDP by 5 percent to 25 percent and demonstrated clearly that it is far cheaper to deal with the crisis now than in the future.

Benefits the very wealthy, at great costs to others
The increase in flights is set to only benefit a small, wealthy proportion of the UK population, mainly from London and the South East. Almost half of the population doesn’t fly at all in any given year, and 70 percent of all UK flights are taken by just 15 percent of people – a group with typically double the income of the average UK citizen. In contrast, the negative effects of rising emissions and global heating will be felt by poorer communities around the world.

Low flying Qantas plane
Photo credit: Arpingstone

Noise and air pollution set to increase
Furthermore, the affects of the new runway will negatively impact the airport’s surrounding communities too. Heathrow is already one of the world’s busiest airports and there is concern from local residents that the expected increase in noise and air pollution will threaten their health and wellbeing further. The surrounding area already suffers from illegal levels of air pollution. There are currently 1,300 planes landing and taking off each day at Heathrow and the advent of the new runway is expected to bring an extra 700 per day. Over half a million people in the area already suffer noise levels above World Health Organization standards.

As the impacts of the climate crisis become more and more apparent, runaway aviation emissions continue. Expanding airports can never be a workable, successful government policy if serious climate action is our goal.

Written by Justin Francis
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