Emissions Targets 'Sound Death Knell' for Third Runway

Prime Minister fails to deny climate change targets make it unfeasible

Heathrow is the UK's largest source of CO2 emissions
Heathrow is the UK's largest source of CO2 emissions. Picture: Dunk

Campaigners against the expansion of Heathrow Airport are claiming that the government’s new, more ambitious climate change targets have effectively ruled out a third runway.

A commitment has been made to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, which given the amount aviation contributes to the UK’s total output of CO2, suggests an overall expansion of the industry during this period would not be possible.

At a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday (20 April) the Prime Minister was asked if the inclusion of aviation emissions in the target would mean that regional airports would have to carry fewer flights or close if Heathrow was to be expanded.

Boris Johnson responded, “Heathrow…that’s a matter for the company concerned, it is a private matter. They’ve got to get it through and fund it and finance it themselves and my own views about that particular matter are well known. But that doesn’t mean that I am opposed to aviation.”

Heathrow Airport has been the single biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK, emitting 20 megatons of CO2 per year which equates to around 60% of total UK aviation emissions. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) anticipates that the aviation sector will still be emitting 23MtCO2 in 2050, yet Heathrow expansion – in the form of a third runway would increase the airport’s emissions to 27MtCO2 per year.

Geraldine Nicholson from local campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion, said, “This is bold step and is a good news day in our campaign to stop Heathrow’s third runway.

“Aviation emissions were not included in our national emissions targets for too long and now act as yet another death knell for Heathrow airport in their crestfallen quest for expansion.”

Paul McGuiness, chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said, “Heathrow expansion is dead. It is simply not compatible with the UK Government’s commitment to do our part in protecting the climate.

“With aviation now having to live within carbon emissions limits, and the Government’s position being that there can be no net expansion of UK aviation, the expansion of activity at one airport will need to be offset by the restriction of activity at another.”

He added, “I don’t think it’s likely that anyone, other than Heathrow’s foreign based shareholders, will be foolish enough to advocate for a relegation of economic opportunity in the regions, and an abandonment of the government’s levelling-up agenda.”

The Prime Minister has previously said he would “lie down in front of bulldozers and stop construction” when he was Mayor of London but absented himself from the country when a key vote was taking place on the issue in the Commons.

The comments after the four leading candidates in London Mayoral elections voiced their opposition to Heathrow expansion.

Sadiq Khan said that a third runway would be “disastrous” for the environment, while Shaun Bailey, Sian Berry and Luisa Porritt all said they would oppose the project.

A Heathrow spokesperson said, "We agree with the Prime Minister that aviation growth and a green future are not mutually exclusive. Carbon is the enemy not flying and low carbon Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will be key to decarbonisation – the Government must act now to introduce a mandate that requires a minimum of 10% SAF use by airlines by 2030, rising to at least 50% by 2050. Action in the UK alone however will not be enough and risks just offshoring emissions - climate change requires a global response and we will support the Government in its efforts to secure a global agreement for net zero aviation by the end of next year. The Government's Airports National Policy Statement is clear that Heathrow expansion will only be delivered in-line with strict environmental limits - that remains the case today which is why we welcome the Government’s plans to accelerate the decarbonisation of aviation.”

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April 22, 2021