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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11 Responses to “New legal challenge to 3rd runway”

  1. Left Foot Forward

    New legal challenge to 3rd runway:

  2. Mark Wallace

    “British people already emit more from flying than any other people in the world by quite some margin” – I thought internationalism and being in touch with other peoples and cultures was ‘progressive’? Or does that not apply if you’re talking about poor people going on package holidays?

    It’s remarkable that you’ve done this philosophical about-turn and decided it would actually be better for everyone to be Little Englanders who never go abroad. Can we expect Left Foot Forward to start praising Americans for not having passports and holidaying within their own country?

  3. Mr. Sensible

    UI am totally opposed to runway 3.

  4. Mr. Sensible

    Oh come on Mark; there are other ways of getting to Europe certainly; Eurostar, for example.

    And with a bit of luck HS2 might improve that further.

  5. Joss Garman

    Mark –

    The statistics from the Civil Aviation Authority show that around 51% of the population don’t set foot on a plane each year anyway, and according to the the IPPR 75% of flights each year are taken by the most well off in social groups A, B and C.

    With around half of all flights in Europe, and about a fifth of all flights from Heathrow, to destinations that are less than 500km away – this is hardly about ending international travel. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that London is already served by five airports and six runways.

    Anyway, if you’re truly internationalist and progressive then you give a shit about the vulnerable people across the global south who will be impacted worst by climate change.

  6. Sir Montgomery Cecil

    Who cares if 300,000 people a year are dying from global warming.
    Most of them are poor. They’ll never fly.
    Sod it. Let’s fly!


  7. Mr. Sensible

    Monty that’s not serious is it?

    Is that the tactic the skeptics are now resorting to?

  8. Wayne Dorband

    New legal challenge to 3rd runway | Left Foot Forward

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Mark Wallace – Americans can visit so many countries without a passport they don’t bother getting them.

    These include but are not limited to: Mexico, Canada, American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Guam, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), Wake Island etc.

    I do wish people would stop constantly stating that Americans don’t travel – they do but tend to keep it more localised than other peoples.

    Agree with you on this climate change nonsense though…

  10. Robbert

    Heathrow seriously needs this expansion. Heathrow’s passengers numbers should be around 100 million passengers a year, the airport is already full and must have this expansion. Paris has 4 runways and Amsterdam has 6, what’s the big deal about Heathrow getting a 3rd. There are a million more advantages to this expansion than disadvantages. Heathrow and Birmingham are the only airports that need a second runway. Not Stansted. Stansted’s expansion should never ever go ahead, why do we need another runway at an airport 30 miles outside of London when we can get one 12 miles away! I will be devistated if Heathrow’s expansion doesn’t go-ahead or if Stansted’s does.

  11. Laura Annerley

    This doesn’t really make sense. But something that VirginBlue is doing as an airline is offering consumers the option of paying a little more to offset the carbon emissions (the money is donated to the cause) with their tickets. It’s only like $2 a flight or something. Perhaps Heathrow could respond like that?

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