New legal challenge to 3rd runway

Environmental groups, local councils & residents are at the High Court today beginning a legal challenge to the government's plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow.

Environmental groups, local councils and residents are at the High Court today beginning a legal challenge to the government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

The plans to build a third runway would, if the 3rd runway were used to capacity, double the number of passengers passing through the airport and lead to 220,000 extra planes flying over London every year.

According to government figures, at full capacity the airport would emit 23.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year – equivalent to the emissions the 54 least-polluting countries in the world combined.

Heathrow airport would become the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in the UK, bigger even than Drax power station.

In response to a Parliamentary question, minister Gillian Merron confirmed that flights leaving UK airports are already responsible for 13% of the country’s entire ‘climate impact’.

The climate community is worried that long term growth trends show that emissions from aviation are growing faster than any other sector of the economy. In the 10 year period between 1990 and 2000 emissions from aviation nearly doubled.

Per person, British people already emit more from flying than any other people in the world by quite some margin – 603kg per person per year, compared to 434kg for Irish citizens and 275 kg for Americans.

There are a range of projections for growth of the aviation sector. Unsurprisingly the government’s estimates are more conservative than others.

In the government’s aviation white paper, the DfT’s “high scenario” predicts that by 2030 passenger numbers will treble compared with 2003 levels and their central scenario (p.45) predicts passenger numbers will double from 228 million to 455 million on 2005 levels.

Government forecasts say that as a result, CO2 emissions will increase from 37.5 MtCO2 to around 59 MtCO2 by 2030, so the government’s own forecasts (p.174) show that even conservative aviation growth estimates mean this one industry alone would absorb nearly 50% of the UK’s carbon budget by 2050.

Leading academics, Cairns and Newson, point out that this explosion in passenger numbers means that even with efficiency gains, emissions from aviation will more than double in absolute terms by 2030 compared to 2000 levels. (Source: S Cairns & C Newson, “Predict and Decide, Aviation, climate change and UK policy”, 2006 – link – page 13).

Sir Nicholas Stern, who wrote the groundbreaking report on the economy and climate change, recently condemned the decision to expand Heathrow saying it would “undermine confidence in the UK’s ability to meet its climate change target”, and the government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King has also warned that “investments in new runways will turn out to be white elephants”.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) and the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) have jointly called for the government to review its decision.

The third runway is also being opposed on the grounds of encouraging dangerous levels of air pollution. Lord Smith, head of the Environment Agency, says:

“The claim that (these) air quality limits can be met is wishful thinking … because they’re already at breaking point with the existing patterns of traffic at Heathrow.”

The economic case for Heathrow has also been questioned. Even the former boss of British Airways, Bob Ayling, said:

“A third runway at Heathrow is against Britain’s economic interests.”

And in November 2008 The Economist used its lead editorial to call for the government to reverse its Heathrow plan, saying:

“Circumstances have changed and [the government] needs to act accordingly.”

In a particularly influential piece of commentary in The Times, Anatole Kaletsky wrote:

“Expanding Heathrow would be environmental, economic and political madness.”

In a British Chambers of Commerce transport survey (p.37) detailing business attitudes to transport issues, respondents rated extra runway capacity as the least preferred transport solution behind investing in railways and demand management.

In November 2008, a poll of 500 businesses across the UK found that only 4% of businesses supported a third runway at Heathrow. Thirteen leading businessmen, including James Murdoch and Justin King of Sainsbury’s, recently condemned the Government’s third runway plans.

In a letter to the Times they wrote “the business case for the third runway simply does not stack up” and that “climate change cannot be ignored”.

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