Climate Change News
Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation
Leo Murray: Why a third runway at Heathrow is a litmus test for environmental breakdown
If Heathrow's 3rd runway plan goes ahead, it will be a sure sign that the UK is incapable of effectively responding to the climate crisis. "Common sense might suggest that massive expansion at the UK’s single largest source of carbon emissions cannot possibly be consistent with plans to eradicate Britain’s net contribution to climate change. But the consultation documents assure us that there will be no increase in carbon emissions from the airport’s operations after 2022 – although there will be a 50% increase in flights." ... On how the emissions are to be dealt with by offsetting: "Offsetting is problematic in principle – it actively defers structural change in high carbon sectors. It’s also demonstrably ineffective in practice. Less than 15% of offsets under the UN's CDM were found to have actually reduced emissions ... which is why the CCC explicitly advised the Government against using offsets to meet the UK’s Net Zero target." Due to devious policy manipulations, it will not be possible to challenge planning permission for the new runway on climate change grounds - they will not be considered a legitimate complaint. "Our collective ability to reflect on the wisdom of this project is a litmus test of our ability to rise to the epic challenge of environmental breakdown."
Heathrow’s 3rd runway is equivalent to bolting an extra airport onto one that is already the world’s most disruptive
The Heathrow consultation sets out Heathrow’s assessment of the impacts of expansion on local communities and the environment, and their plans (such as they are ...) to mitigate these impacts. Speaking for the No 3rd Runway Coalition, Paul Beckford commented that: “Our communities will be destroyed by these expansion proposals, with 783 homes demolished and another 3,000 homes rendered unliveable owing to the construction and pollution. 2 million more people will be exposed to aircraft noise at levels that have a detrimental impact on health and millions will be exposed to significant increases in air pollution from vehicles accessing the airport as well as the 700 additional planes in the skies every single day. Every community across London and the Home Counties will experience the impacts of these proposals..." Paul McGuinness, Chair of the Coalition said: "Statistically, Heathrow is already the world’s most disruptive airport. It lies at the heart of the UK’s most densely populated region and has a hopeless environmental record, regularly breaching air quality targets. And all of that comes with just two runways. Heathrow’s plan equates to bolting another major airport on top of its current, disruptive operation."
Heathrow claims there will be NO NET INCREASE IN CO2 EMISSIONS, with 50% more flights….
The expansion of Heathrow, with a 3rd runway, would - logically and in the absence of any real means of reducing the carbon emissions per plane in any significant way - be likely to increase the CO2 from flights by something like 40%. But the consultation by Heathrow, published on 18th June, gives NO figures for the amount of extra carbon that would be emitted by the extra planes. They say the current amount of carbon emitted by flights, the airport, surface access is about 20.83 million tonnes of CO2 per year. But they consider the extra fights not to add any carbon at all (except domestic flights) because all will be offset using the UN CORSIA scheme. So it is entirely cancelled out and ignored. Heathrow say: "Current baseline GHG emissions have been estimated at 20.8 million tonnes of CO2e (MtCO2e). Air transport accounts for over 95% of Heathrow’s GHG emissions followed by surface access transport at 3%." And ""Heathrow’s carbon neutral growth aspiration means that growth in CO2 emissions from additional flights after expansion would be offset through carbon credits, resulting in no net growth in emissions. " Caroline Lucas MP commented: "Heathrow is taking economy with truth to new levels`'
Heathrow consultation starts – trying to cover up the devastating impacts the 3rd runway would have, in so many ways…
The main Heathrow consultation - before the DCO consultation - on its proposed 3rd runway has opened. It closes on 13th September. It is a massive consultation, with dozens and dozens of long documents - making it impossible, in reality, for a layperson to read. Below are links to the key documents. Heathrow says it is proposing "tough new measures to reduce emissions". It proposes a slight increase in the amount of time when scheduled flights are not allowed at night - just 6.5 hours (that does NOT include planes that take off late....) so little change there. This is a statutory consultation (the earlier ones were not) and Heathrow says it "will inform the airport’s Development Consent Order (DCO) application, which is expected to be submitted next year." There will be 43 consultation events to be held during the 12-week consultation period. Heathrow says its "expansion will be privately financed and costs will not fall on the taxpayer." It will be interesting to see how they pay for the work to bridge the M25, paying for it all themselves. There is no information on flight paths, as those will not be decided upon until perhaps 2023. They use only indicative flight paths. There expected to be more flights, even before the runway is built, by 2022.
Maybe night trains will return, for middle distance trips around Europe…
Unfortunately, overnight train routes have long been in decline, due mainly to the growing popularity of cheap flights. German rail operator Deutsche Bahn ended all of its night routes, selling off the entirety of its sleeping carriages, while in France, the last Paris-to-Nice sleeping train service was discontinued in 2017. There has been a lot of campaigning to keep the night trains, which offer a far lower-carbon travel alternative to flying, for distances that take too long for a daytime trip. The Back on Track group has been lobbying rail operators and governments, and organizing protests. There seems to be a slight improvement, with Austria’s ÖBB buying Deutsche Bahn’s unwanted sleeping carriages, and even ordering more new ones for 2023. The Swedish government has announced plans to expand overnight trains to many European destinations. The Swiss rail operator SBB has said it is considering renewed night routes, citing market demand. In France, activists saved a popular sleeping-car route between Paris, Perpignan and the Spanish border town of Portbou. In the UK we have the recently upgraded Caledonian Sleeper, from London to Scotland. More people need to ask for night routes.
Extinction Rebellion delays protest at Heathrow – disrupting the airport likely to only create opposition to the campaign
Climate activism group Extinction Rebellion has postponed until later this year a plan to shut down Heathrow, using drones. It had said, on 1st June, that it had plans to cause a lot of disruption during June and July, to highlight the problem the UK has with the CO2 emissions from aviation - and the huge increase a 3rd runway would generate. There had never been any risk of lives being endangered, as drones would not have been flown near planes. XR had consulted widely among supporters, who feared a furore over safety concerns would eclipse Extinction Rebellion's broader message over the need to take radical action to tackle the climate crisis. It could end up with overall very negative publicity, and hinder the message getting out effectively to a wider audience. XR says any protests would take place within an exclusion zone in a 5km radius around the airport, avoiding flight paths, and the notice period for any drone action would be at least two months. The intention is to push for the systemic change needed to cut Britain’s emissions as quickly as possible, by causing economic disruption - but trying to minimise disruption to passengers.
Prof Kevin Anderson: With the aviation growth anticipated by the UK government, “any claim made of the UK being zero carbon by 2050, is simply not true”
In response to the UK government saying it will raise its ambition to cut CO2 emissions, by 2050, to 100% (up from the current 80%) compared to 1990, Professor Kevin Anderson has a lot of caveats. He says: “Whilst in many respects I welcome the headline framing of the Government’s ‘net-zero’ proposal, sift amongst the […]
Flying may go from glamorous to scandalous, with the highest level of awareness about climate and carbon
"Flying has gone from glamorous to scandalous, and the industry is scrambling to prop up its fading popularity." Might aviation soon become something that people are slightly embarrassed about, and mildly ashamed? The level of public anxiety is increasing, about rising CO2 emissions, and the highly damaging impact on people's lives (even in rich countries like the UK), within the next few decades. That is in the lifetimes of those alive now. Not at some far off future date. Across Europe, campaigns to reduce air travel emissions are gaining traction. Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for transport, said: “In the future, I expect the aviation industry’s license for growth to be linked directly to perceptions of sustainability”. There is little sign of awareness reducing the numbers flying, in the UK - but there is a perceptible change in attitude, by a lot of people. "Politico" says: "A succession of European governments — left and right alike — are mulling aviation taxes, an end to traditionally heavy subsidies, and are reconsidering airport expansion plans. Airlines are on the defensive. Even as they look forward to transporting ever more passengers — carriers worry that the protests could prompt government intervention and jeopardize those projections."
UN Environment article critical of carbon offsetting taken down, then republished – but criticism watered down
"UN Environment" published, then retracted, an article criticising the use of carbon credits to make up for carbon-emitting activities. It published an unusually stark critique of carbon offsetting on 10th June (been archived); on 11th the article was taken down, following queries by Climate Home News. In the original article a climate specialist at the UN organisation warned against considering carbon offsets as “our get-out-jail-free card”. He said: “The era of carbon offsets is drawing to a close. Buying carbon credits in exchange for a clean conscience while you carry on flying, buying diesel cars and powering your home with fossil fuels is no longer acceptable or widely accepted.” Asked about this he said it was a web story not an official position paper, and that UN Environment does see offsets as an intermediate solution. The revised article on the 12th removed the comment above, saying instead that buying carbon credits is "being challenged by people concerned about climate change." The paragraph in the earlier version saying: "Carbon credits are increasingly coming under fire for essentially allowing some to continue on their polluting ways while the rest of us are left scrambling to contain the climate crisis" was removed in the later version. Carbon offsets are the way the aviation sector intends to carry on increasing its carbon emissions. The earlier article showed how inadequate that would be.
Theresa May commits to net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050 – but aviation not properly included in that
Theresa May has sought to cement some legacy in the weeks before she steps down as prime minister by enshrining in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. This is an increase from the current target of an 80% cut on the 1990 level, by 2050. However, it is a far cry from a net zero target by 2025, that Extinction Rebellion has called for. The change is in an amendment to the Climate Change Act (2008) that was laid in parliament today. The wording just makes the change from 80% to 100%. This does make the UK the first member of the G7 nations to legislate for net zero emissions. It is a step in the right direction. However, it is a NET target, not a gross one, so it will depend on buying carbon offsets (often ineffective) from other countries (usually poorer countries), rather than the UK actually cutting CO2 emissions that much. It excludes the embodied carbon in imports. AND it does not properly include international aviation and shipping. The government just says: "For now, therefore, we will continue to leave headroom for emissions from international aviation and shipping in carbon budgets..."