The environmental implications of the Airports Commission’s backing for a new south-east runway
In a recent blog, Tim Johnson (Director of the Aviation Environment Federation) says of the current pressure to build another south east runway, that the environmental implications need to be assessed very carefully indeed, before any consent is considered. Aircraft noise remains the principal source of community conflict with airports. Noise does not merely cause annoyance, but there is also growing evidence supporting a correlation between aviation noise and ill health. There is also an established relationship between air quality and health and the EU’s legal limits mean that any expansion plans must guarantee the limits will not be breached. Aviation’s contribution to climate change remains one of the fasting growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. UK aviation emissions already contribute around 6% of our total emissions with that proportion set to grow to 25% by 2050 (even if aviation emissions are maintained at 2005 levels). Unfortunately the Airports Commission has reached a decision on the need for a new runway before it has made an appraisal of the local issues. It is unfortunate that the Commission has made the mistake of viewing climate change, as well as local impacts of noise and air pollution as mere afterthoughts to their interim conclusions.
The environmental implications of the Airports Commission’s work
When the last government made the decision to support a third runway at Heathrow airport, it encountered strong opposition from the communities that would be affected by more aircraft noise and worsening air quality, as well as having to confront the implications for the UK’s contribution to global climate change. The combined pressure contributed to the incumbent coalition government reversing the decision on Heathrow’s third runway before they eventually set up the Airports Commission in 2012.
Aircraft noise remains the principal source of community conflict with airports and the prospect of expansion often leaves those affected fearing that more flights will worsen the existing noise problem. However, the ‘noise problem’ cannot simply be defined by annoyance – there is also growing evidence supporting a correlation between aviation noise and ill health. There is also an established relationship between air quality and health and the EU’s legal limits mean that any expansion plans must guarantee the limits, which are barely being met today in some locations, will not be breached with more aircraft and road vehicles.
Aviation’s contribution to climate change remains one of the fasting growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, aviation emissions already contribute around 6% of our total emissions with that proportion set to grow to 25% by 2050 (even if aviation emissions are maintained at 2005 levels).
It is necessary, therefore, that any independent assessment of more runway capacity in the UK takes both the local and global environmental implications very seriously before making recommendations. Unfortunately the Airports Commission has reached a decision on the need for a new runway before it has made an appraisal of the local issues, such as noise and air pollution, leaving all options open to continued political uncertainty.
These local concerns will be considered by the Airports Commission when they review each of their shortlisted options. The goal should be to achieve measurable environmental targets, not simply limit the scale of the increases. The latter approach will not satisfy concerned communities or diminish opposition.
The Commission used the advice of the Committee on Climate Change (the government’s advisors on the issue) to conclude that the number of passengers at UK airports can grow to a sufficient level to allow a new runway to be built without making the UK’s national climate target to reduce overall emissions by 80% untenable. However, the Airports Commission did not outline the implications of allowing a new runway to be built within this framework. A key implication is for regional airports: a fully utilised new runway would mean capacity constraints on other airports across the UK so that emissions can be limited to 2005 levels.
It is unfortunate that the Airports Commission has made the mistake, as others have in the past, of viewing climate change, noise and air pollution as afterthoughts to their interim conclusions and not the integral parts of the solution. However, they must keep environmental issues at the forefront of their minds if the UK is to sustainably maintain its leading role in the aviation sector.
The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is the principal UK organisation working on the environmental impacts of aviation. Tim Johnson, Director of the AEF, was the only speaker at the recent Runways UK event to present the environmental concerns of airport expansion in the South East.
Presentation by Tim Johnson, Director of AEF, at the recent RunwaysUK conference
This is the video of the presentation by Tim Johnson,(Director of AEF – the Aviation Environment Federation) at the recent RunwaysUK conference, on 16th January. 14 minutes of important environmental information (noise, carbon, air pollution, biodiversity, impacts on local communities) and valuable common sense. It sums up concisely why a new runway could not be built and used, even keeping within the current Committee on Climate Change guidelines. If a new runway is built in the south east, it will mean growth having to be limited retrospectively at other, regional, airports across the UK. Increasing the north-south divide. Well worth watching.
Tim was the only speaker on environmental matters at the conference. Almost all others speaking were in favour of a new runway. The other videos from the conference are at http://www.runwaysuk.com/postshow-resources/video