Posts Tagged ‘Heathrow’

The public consultation on the proposed expansion to Heathrow Airport is over. This week has seen climate change activists from Greenpeace climbing a plane(1) and some from Plane Stupid on the roof of the Houses of Parliament(2) to protest at the expansion, and the way the Government has dealt with consultation on it. We knew from the start that it wasn’t going to be much of a consultation at all(3). More of a statement of intent.

The intent is to add a third runway of 2.2km, and ‘associated passenger terminal facilities’ which would enable a 50% increase in traffic in the airport (4).

According to the summary document, the expansion plans have been “set in the context of [the Governments] wider aviation policies”. These include seeking to “reduce and minimise the impacts of airports on those who live nearby and on the natural environment.”(4).

Let’s just think about that for a minute. They are going to make a massive expansion to Heathrow, and yet it’s been set in a context of reducing impacts of airports. How does that work then? I can only assume that before they remembered the inconvenient ‘context’ they were going to bulldoze many more than the estimated 700 homes that are going to have to be demolished (4).

The Department of Transport have clearly tried to launch an assault of reassurance on the main opposing body – people who realise that building a new runway is a disastrous and absurd idea when we are staring devastating climate change in the face. The resulting writing in the document is hilarious and pathetic.

Part one of the Summary states that “We believe that a well-designed, open, international emissions trading regime for aviation is still the best way of ensuring that the aviation sector plays its part in tackling climate change.” Well okay, but I believe that the best way of ensuring that would be not building any more airports, and looking instead at the irresponsible use of planes to fly between Manchester and London more than 30 times a day, or anywhere else that should be reached by train. That would seem to make a lot more sense, in economic terms too, but maybe that’s just me.

It goes on to say that emissions trading would mean that “aviation emissions would effectively be capped at the average level over the period 2004 to 2006.” This would mean that “airlines would have to pay for the equivalent emissions reductions in other sectors.” Apparently they “continue to explore and promote other measures including carbon offsetting schemes.”

Well as I see it, paying for emissions reductions in other sectors is offsetting. Is exploring carbon offsetting schemes supposed to reassure me? Carbon offsetting a few hundred thousand flights a year? Have they asked the Department for the Environment how they could go about doing that? Maybe they are planning on making France into one big forest? I’ll draw up a consultation document to send to the French………….

These people just don’t get it do they. If airlines are going to pay for emissions cuts in other sectors then those magical other sectors are going to have to reduce their emissions even more than they were going to need to anyway. And that ain’t going to be easy. With their logic, what will happen in the end will be lots of the big powerful important sectors paying the little rubbish ones to reduce their emissions. Before they know it they’ll have to reduce their emissions 100, 200 or 300%.

If these were absolutely essential flights we are talking about then some people might forgive the Government for this approach. But so many of them are short-haul flights to places that can easily be reached by other means, – surely getting rid of those should be the first priority, and then think about trading or offsetting or whatever.

The telling sentence of the whole consultation document is the following – “Our work shows that a third runway at Heathrow would bring net economic benefits of around £5bn in net present value terms, even after taking into account of climate change and noise costs.”

Hooray! We’ll be up to our necks in floods and a few local residents will be deaf and homeless, but it’s okay because think of the money! Woohoo! (This money would be over 70 years by the way – and the economic reasoning behind it has been branded ‘flawed and misleading’ by a report from an independent research and consultancy firm, CE Delft (5).)

It’s the last bit that gets me. “….even after taking into account of climate change and noise costs.” You can’t figure climate change into an economical calculation and then forget about it. A financial cost of climate change is not the only cost. There are lives at stake here.

Unfortunately the Government is not adverse to including human lives as part of the economic balance sheet – as pointed out by George Monbiot discussing the Stern Report (the report which the Government has a habit of trying to use as it’s get-out-of-jail-free card whenever it can – including in this consultation document)(6).

The UK’s fastest growing source of emissions is aviation. Is the Government really trying to tell us that Heathrow is going to be the exception to their professed green credentials? Are they really saying this is the only carbon-generating idea they are going to use our money for, and that apart from this they are going to be little angels? Pull the other one. What about coal powered energy generation that they are just about to revitalise? Are we going to offset that too?

We need to do everything we can to stop this runway being built. The protests this week were just the start.

1. ‘Climate campaigners bring peaceful protest to Heathrow’ – Greenpeace, 25th February 2008.
2. ‘Climate campaigners hang ‘NO 3rd RUNWAY’ banner before PMQs’ – Plane Stupid, 27th February 2008.
3. ‘Legal action threatened over ‘sham’ Heathrow consultation’ – The Independent Online, 23rd November 2007.
4. ‘Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport – Summary’ – Department for Transport. 27th February 2008.
5. ‘The Government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow is “flawed and misleading”’ – HACAN ClearSkies.
6. ‘An exchange of souls’ – George Monbiot, 19th February 2008.


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While I was at the conference last week, one or two of us were trying to come up with ideas for what the group could actually do to try and help in raising awareness of climate change, and I suggested we should start a petition to get Gordon Brown to address the nation solely on the issue of climate change. And hey presto! – on Monday he did just that, and it didn’t take a single signature.

It wasn’t quite the all-channel dominating, prime-time, 30 minute long, Hollywood-style epic that I had in mind, but it was a start.

So what did he say? Well, he recognised that the Climate Change Bill might have to “be tightened up to 80 per cent”, and said that “By 2016, all new houses will have to be zero carbon”. He also said he was “convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives”, and was going to have a meeting with the supermarkets and co. about how this could be done – but made no promises it would be (1). There were lots of mentions of technologies that will help, and how difficult it will be to overcome the problem etc. – but somehow, it didn’t leave me very convinced.

Zero carbon houses in 2016?! – What are you going to be pissing about with in the meantime Gordon? – That’s 8 years away!

Anyway, So far so good. If he sticks to everything he said in the speech (and it’s up to us to make sure that he does), then we will be a little closer to preventing more than 2 degrees of climate change, which is something we REALLY need to prevent.

The problem, as many people have highlighted previously, was that government departments, notably Transport, didn’t appear to have heard the speech, and certainly weren’t going to let it get in the way of nice big plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

According to the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly – “If Heathrow is allowed to become uncompetitive, the flights and routes it operates will simply move elsewhere. All it will do is shift capacity over the Channel. It will make us feel pure, but with no benefit to the rest of the planet.” (2).

What?!?! Did she really just say that? As a friend of mine said today, that’s like saying “Well of course I’m going to keep selling drugs to kids, because if I didn’t then someone else would instead.”

I couldn’t believe that these two statements came from the same Government. That’s right folks – we’re really concerned about global warming – so concerned that we’re going to build lots of new runways so that other people don’t have to, therefore reducing their emissions. Errr……hold on a second…….

On the face of it, Mr. Brown seems to understand the extent of the problem, saying –
“The issue is not, as some would have it: can we afford to do more. The now undeniable reality is that we cannot afford to accept any less” – apart from, apparently, where planes are discussed. Oh, or building more coal-fired power stations (3). Hmmmm.

Forgive me for not being entirely convinced Gordon, but how about doing something. Like now.

Not everyone is going to enjoy the necessary changes over the next ten years or so – so why is the Prime Minister so scared of doing things? Does he really think that we are going to be able to cut our emissions to the required amount and also keep the motoring industry, supermarkets and big business completely happy?

Do you really want to get rid of plastic bags Gordon? Then do it! It won’t save the planet, but it would be a start. And have a good long think about that third runway while you’re at it. You’ve talked the talk, so how about a bit of walking to follow.


1. Gordon Brown speech on Climate Change at the WWF – 19th November 2007. This can be found in full here.
2. Kelly launches fight for Heathrow expansion, The Guardian Online edition, 22nd Nov. 2007.
3. The New Coal Age – George Monbiot, Monbiot.com, October 9th, 2007.

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