AEF damning assessment of Heathrow recommendation and its environmental impacts
The AEF (Aviation Environment Federation) is the main group in the UK assessing UK aviation policy for its environment impacts, with several decades of expertise. They have had a first look at the government’s Heathrow decision, and are underwhelmed. Some of their comments: On CO2 the DfT says that keeping UK carbon emissions to within the 37.5 MtCO2 cap while adding a Heathrow runway effectively cannot be done. AEF says the DfT now has no commitment to the 37.5 MtCO2 cap, and just includes vague references to the ICAO global carbon offsetting scheme for aviation agreed this month, and to potential efficiencies arising from better air traffic management -though both measures are (effectively) already taken into account in the CCC’s modelling. On air pollution, the DfT says “a new runway at Heathrow is deliverable within air quality limits, if necessary mitigation measures are put in place, in line with the ‘National air quality plan’, published in December 2015.” But AEF says Government appears to have little idea what those mitigation measures will be, and the deliverability of the plan has already, therefore, been questioned through the courts. And on noise AEF says the noise impact will depend heavily on the precise location of flight paths, which are unknown.
What answers has the Government found to the environmental hurdles facing a third runway?
With the Government now having officially announced its support for a new runway at Heathrow, despite having slashed the Airports Commission’s claim of a £147 billion benefit to the UK by almost 60% (referring instead to a benefit over sixty years of ‘up to £61 billion’), we take a first look at what they have to offer in terms of answers to some key environmental challenges.
As AEF has consistently pointed out, and as the Committee on Climate Change reminded Government today, there is no plan for delivering the aviation emissions limit required to deliver the Climate Change Act either with or without a new runway.
The last time we had a government supporting runway expansion, it specified that this would be conditional on the sector’s CO2 emissions being on course not to exceed 37.5 Mt by 2050, in line with the CCC’s advice. Today’s announcement included no such commitment, instead making vague references to the global carbon offsetting scheme for aviation agreed this month, and to potential efficiencies arising from better air traffic management – both measures that are (effectively) already taken into account in the CCC’s modelling, and that won’t bring us anywhere near to achieving the minimum level of ambition required under UK law.
So what does the Government have to say about how the CCC’s recommendation will be met? The answer is deeply buried in a technical paper released alongside the announcement which states that the Airports Commission’s carbon-capped scenario “is helpful for understanding the varying effects of constraining aviation CO2 emissions on aviation demand and the impact on the case for airport expansion but was described by the AC as ‘unrealistic in future policy terms’”. In other words it can’t be done.
With the Heathrow area consistently breaching legal limits for nitrogen dioxide and the Airports Commission anticipating that expansion at the airport would have an adverse or significantly adverse impact on air quality, this represents a clear legal obstacle that the Government must be ready to take on. Today’s announcement indicates that a ‘re-analysis’ by Government of air pollution levels subsequent to the Airports Commission’s report has shown that “a new runway at Heathrow is deliverable within air quality limits, if necessary mitigation measures are put in place, in line with the ‘National air quality plan’, published in December 2015.”
The problem is that Government appears to have little idea what those mitigation measures will be, and the deliverability of the plan has already, therefore, been questioned through the courts. ClientEarth, which brought the action, said today in a statement “Those plans were so poor that last week we took them [the Government] back to the High Court to force action on air pollution. The government needs to produce an in-depth and credible plan to drastically cut air pollution to meet its legal obligations rather than digging an even deeper hole for itself.”
With Heathrow’s noise already affecting more people than its five main European rivals combined, the likely noise impact of expansion has always been at the heart of much of the political opposition to a new runway. Today’s announcement includes the statement that “The government will propose that a six-and-a-half hour ban on scheduled night flights will be introduced” but gives no indication of preference for whether this will run from 11:30pm to 6:00am as recommended by the Airports Commission or from 11:00pm to 5:30am as proposed by the airport, with numerous flights potentially scheduled from 5:30 in the morning. Meanwhile the noise impact, including for the hundreds of thousands predicted to be newly affected, will depend heavily on the precise location of flight paths – an issue potentially as contentious as the expansion itself.
The Conservatives’ mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has already announced his decision to resign in response to the Government announcement, and the Government is now relying on the support of both Parliament and the Lords to get approval for an Airports National Policy Statement supporting expansion (not to be published for consultation until next year). This is – of course – not the end of the debate but in many ways just the beginning.
Dark day for communities and for the UK’s chance of tackling climate change, as Heathrow announcement shows reckless disregard for environmental targets
PRESS RELEASE by AEF
The environmental NGO, Aviation Environment Federation , which represents communities around the UK’s airports, has strongly criticised the Government’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow.
Cait Hewitt, AEF Deputy Director, said:
This is a dark day for local communities, and suggests a reckless disregard for the climate change damage that a new runway will bring.
Within weeks of the Paris Agreement on climate change becoming binding, the UK appears to be turning its back on earlier promises to play our part in ensuring a safe and stable climate. Heathrow is already the UK’s biggest single source of emissions , and is responsible for more CO2 from international flights than any other airport in the world . As the Government has no meaningful plans for tackling CO2 from aviation despite UK and international climate change commitments, a new runway will see aviation emissions soar.
The decision is also a betrayal of local people who are already exposed to dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution, and to noise at levels known to harm health. Even if the airport introduces a partial night flight ban that may provide some respite for existing communities, hundreds of thousands of people will be overflown for the first time as a result of expansion, at an airport that already impacts more people than its five major European rivals combined.
Today’s decision is not final. This is not the first time that a UK government has announced its support for a new South East runway. On each occasion in the past that that the government has supported expansion, it has not proceeded once the full economic and environmental costs have become clear.
Parliament will now have its say on the Government’s decision. It is vital that MPs look beyond the headline figures from the Airports Commission’s final report, since many of the costs of expansion were hidden in appendices. Factoring in these costs shows that the environmental damage created by a new runway will result in a relatively small economic benefit and could even be negative. Over the summer we sent politicians from all major parties 50 reasons to oppose a new runway. MPs must now see if the Government has answers to these challenges.”
Contact: Name / email
AEF office: 0203 102 1509
Tim Johnson, AEF Director: (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cait Hewitt, AEF Deputy Director: (email@example.com)
 The Aviation Environment Federation is the only national NGO campaigning exclusively on environmental impacts of aviation including noise, air pollution and climate change. We represent community groups around many of the UK airports in our work to secure effective regulation of the aviation industry at national and international levels. www.aef.org.uk
 AEF’s 50 reasons are available to download at: http://www.aef.org.uk/uploads/AEF_50-reasons_Final.pdf with full references at: http://www.aef.org.uk/2016/09/08/50-reasons-campaign-references/
 Drax emissions from UK Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (verified emissions accounting for biomass); Heathrow emissions projections from Jacobs, Carbon Assessment, November 2014, prepared for the Airports Commission
 The UN reached agreement earlier this month on a global aviation emissions offsetting scheme, a welcome indication that all countries recognise the challenge of aviation emissions. While the agreement represents a first step towards bringing the sector into line with climate ambition, however, it will be unable to deliver the emissions reductions required by either UK climate legislation or the Paris Agreement.
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