Hoon and Emma Thompson exchange flak over flights

17.1.2009   (Guardian)

by Patrick Wintour, political editor

The cabinet minister who is pushing through the expansion of Heathrow last night hit out at celebrity environmentalists who talk green politics while flying across the globe.

Transport secretary Geoff Hoon picked on the Oscar winner Emma Thompson who emerged as a leading figure in
the campaign to stop the third runway at Britain’s biggest airport.

In an interview with the Guardian in which he also urged Barack Obama to change
American attitudes to
climate change, Hoon was outspoken in his criticism.

“She has been in some very good films. Love Actually is very good, but I worry
about people who I assume travel by air quite a lot and don’t see the logic of
their position, not least because the reason we have got this problem in relation
to Heathrow is that more and more people want to travel more and more,” he said.

He added: “BAA do not wake up in the morning and think ‘we need a bigger airport’
and airlines do not say ‘we need to put on more flights’ unless there is a demand
for it. So the point is about not just Emma Thompson, but lots of people. If someone
living in LA says he did not think it was a good idea to expand Heathrow, well
the last time I looked the only way to get from LA to Britain is Heathrow.”

Thompson, who has helped Greenpeace buy an acre of land on the site of the proposed
new runway, gave an equally tart reply: “Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign
against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of
climate change.

“It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Hoon broadened his defence of the Heathrow plan and
urged the incoming US president to sign an international agreement to control
carbon emissions from aircraft.

He insisted a start on building the new runway could be achieved by 2015, and
predicted that protests by green groups would only add “some small administrative
difficulty to the process”. He also forecast the government would not lose a vote
on the expansion in the Commons, pointing out confidently that he had not once
lost a vote in the 18 months he had been government chief whip.

He disclosed that a £250m fund to expand the green car market may be used to
subsidise the high cost of batteries used in electric cars, so that they can be
offered at cheap rental rates to consumers.

In a concession to green groups on Thursday, Hoon promised that the extra runway
would not be used if the government’s advisory committee on climate change says
in the future that the expansion means carbon emissions from aviation cannot be
brought down to 2005 levels by 2050.

He claimed his proposal that new slots at Heathrow can only be used by green
planes was “not about dreaming up some new aircraft”, but instead incentivising
airlines to invest increasingly in cleaner, quieter aircraft.

“These are aircraft that are operating today,” he said.

In his interview, Hoon said the big politics lay in winning international agreement
on how emissions from aviation are curbed and measured.

He said: “At the moment there are difficulties with the US and we hope that goes
away on Tuesday” – the day Obama is inaugurated as president. Hoon admitted the
agreed EU scheme to cap carbon emissions from aviation in Europe from 2012 was
causing tensions with America.

He added: “The EU scheme must necessarily affect all US planes and all

non-European planes coming into Heathrow and other UK airports. At the moment,
the truth is they are not too happy about that, and what we need in the US is
a new attitude, an international agreement.”

The transport secretary said the current figures for measuring carbon impact
at Heathrow were illogical and arbitrary. “What we need is an international agreement
where you share the carbon out roughly in proportion to the number of flights
going from each country. Now that seems a wholly sensible and effective way of
doing it.”

He said he was hopeful that the new president would make US international airlines
co-operate with the EU.

Hoon said the way in which green pressure groups currently attributed carbon
emissions to Heathrow was illogical and unfair.

He complained: ” When people are talking about the carbon impact of Heathrow
what they are actually talking about is the amount of fuel taken on board by aircraft
at Heathrow. But the truth is that this is American aircraft, French aircraft
and far eastern aircraft.

“If you simply make all your decisions on the basis of the total amount of fuel
that is taken on board at Heathrow, what you are doing is putting the UK at a
very significant competitive disadvantage because no one else is counting emissions
in the same way. We will end up double counting our carbon, damaging our competitive
position with other countries who will be getting a free ride.”

In the interview Hoon also forecast that the price of travel would to increase
as a result of aviation being included in the European Union emissions trading
scheme from 2012, but he said the price rise would not have a major impact on
demand, which he admitted was going to rise exponentially.

He conceded in the UK “we have probably benefited most from the emergence of
low-cost airlines. My constituents are travelling to destinations which 10 years
ago they would never have imagined possible because they could never have afforded
it. That is what is driving the expansion.”