Climate emergency realisation in UK to cause review of Heathrow expansion – climate change may limit future UK flying
Date added: May 11, 2019
The government (DfT) has admitted that concerns over climate change might restrict the growth of flying in the UK. The government’s statutory advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently said the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2. Now a senior civil servant, Caroline Low (in charge of Heathrow expansion at the DfT) has told Plan B Earth that means ministers may have to review the UK’s aviation strategy (due to become a white paper later in 2019). The aviation strategy is currently out to consultation, till 20th June. Plan B says the level of climate concern is so high that the decision on Heathrow expansion – the Airports NPS – should be brought back to Parliament. (It was voted for in June 2018, with carbon issues glossed over so MPs were unaware of the extent of the problem). The DfT hopes expanding Heathrow would create economic growth etc. When the government first laid out proposals for increasing aviation, the UK had an overall target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. But the CCC now recommends that Britain should adopt a target of net zero emissions. Growth of aviation needs to be constrained to fit within a Net Zero target. Caroline Low said the DfT will now have to give aviation carbon emissions “careful consideration” and even look at whether the ANPS should be revised.
See also, for details of the DfT letter and the Plan B letter to which it is responding:
Senior DfT civil servant confirms aviation CO2 issues to now be “given careful consideration” for ANPS review
May 11, 2019
Tim Crosland, Director of Plan B, wrote on 2nd May to the government’s lawyers, asking for clarity on how Heathrow expansion would be assessed against the UK target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, including emissions from aviation. In a response on 8th May from Caroline Low, the senior DfT civil servant working on Heathrow expansion, she confirms that: “…the department will carefully consider this request against the statutory criteria set out” in sections of the 2008 Planning Act. And “As well as giving careful consideration to the Net Zero report and the declaration of environment and climate emergency, mentioned in the request, it may be necessary to consider the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended policy approach for deviation which, the Committee has stated at chapter 6 of the report, will be provided to the department later in 2019 and any relevant decisions taken by the government in the coming months as a result. These decisions are likely to include decisions on relevant policy being developed as part of Aviation 2050: The future of UK aviation, which is currently the subject of consultation. At the end of this consideration, the department will provide advice and a recommendation to the Secretary of State, to enable him to take a decision on whether the statutory criteria for a review of part or all of the ANPS are met, and whether or not it is appropriate to carry out such a review.”
Britain’s move to “net zero” carbon and the declaration of a climate emergency in parliament will be “given careful consideration” in deciding whether to grant a review of Heathrow airport’s expansion, the government has said.
The new approach falls well short of any commitment to review Heathrow’s expansion, but means the decision on whether to grant campaigners’ request for a review will include the net zero target and the climate emergency among its criteria.
Green campaigners welcomed the pledge, which came in a letter to environmental group Plan B. Tim Crosland, director of Plan B, said: “We’re pleased to see the government is taking seriously our request to review the expansion of Heathrow airport. The government can either take the necessary action to avoid climate breakdown or it can stick to business as usual and expand aviation, but it can’t have it both ways.”
The letter is also one of the first indications of how the net zero target, recommended last week by the committee on climate change, and parliament’s vote to recognise a climate emergency, may be taken into account in future by civil servants giving advice to ministers on key issues such as transport and infrastructure.
Green campaigners will be pressing the government to review existing policies on these issues in the light of the committee’s view that it is “necessary” for the UK to be net zero by 2050, arguing that policy decisions made previously are now invalid. Plan B wrote to the government on 2 May requesting a new review of the airports national policy statement (ANPS), under which the Heathrow expansion will take place, making that argument.
In the letter to Plan B, seen by the Guardian, [main text copied below] Caroline Low, the director of Heathrow expansion and aviation and maritime analysis at the Department for Transport (DfT), wrote: “I can confirm that the department will carefully consider this request [for a review of the airports national policy statement, which includes Heathrow].
“As well as giving careful consideration to the net zero report and the declaration of environment and climate emergency, mentioned in the request, it may be necessary to consider the committee on climate change’s recommended policy approach for aviation … and any relevant decisions taken by the government in the coming months as a result.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The expansion of Heathrow received overwhelming support from MPs because it would provide a massive economic boost to businesses and communities the length and breadth of Britain, all at no cost to the taxpayer and within our environmental obligations. [So many half truths and misleading impressions in that statement. AW comment]
Last week, a case brought by Plan B and others that ministers must take the Paris climate agreement into account in considering Heathrow expansion was thrown out by the high court.
Officials are also understood to believe that any decisions on the request for a review are some way off because the climate change committee will not produce its policy approach on aviation until later this year, so no decision on how to take its findings into consideration will be made until then. This means no recommendation to the secretary of state is likely until next year.
Crosland responded: “The government can split hairs if they want, but the situation is too serious for that. Parliament approved Heathrow expansion on the basis of very different circumstances to those which now prevail. It’s just common sense the position calls for reconsideration. You can’t declare an emergency and then act like nothing’s changed.”
The net zero report produced by the CCC was hailed as one of the biggest developments in the UK’s approach to climate change in the last decade. The recommendations will require vast changes to all aspects of the British economy, encompassing citizens, consumers, businesses, government and civil society.
MPs passing the vote on a “climate emergency” also marked a historic moment in British politics, as it would, if implemented effectively, require the government to have regard for the climate in policy decisions across the board.
Siân Berry, the co-leader of the Green party, said: “In this age of climate emergency, Heathrow expansion very clearly cannot go ahead. We need the government to acknowledge the emergency situation that previous policy choices have created. All building of new fossil fuel infrastructure has to end. That means banning fracking, stopping new road building and of course ending Heathrow expansion.”
Concerns over climate change might restrict the growth of flying in the UK, the government has admitted.
The advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently said the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2.
Now a senior civil servant has told a green group that means ministers may have to review aviation strategy.
The group says climate concern is so high the decision on Heathrow expansion should be brought back to Parliament.
The Department for Transport defended the proposed Heathrow expansion, saying it would “provide a massive economic boost to businesses and communities” across the UK, all at “no cost to the taxpayer and within our environmental obligations”.
Why should the policy change?
It is a crucial time for flying, with policy on aviation right up to 2050 currently out for consultation.
When the government first laid out proposals for increasing aviation, the UK had an overall target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.
But the CCC recently raised the bar of ambition in recommending that Britain should adopt a target of net zero emissions.
That will mean compensating for any greenhouse gases by either capturing the CO2 and storing it, or planting more trees.
Under the previous 80% scenario, aviation had a privileged position. Its expansion would be counter-balanced by additional CO2 cuts in other sectors, like industry.
The CCC makes it clear this is not an option in a zero-carbon Britain. It says people will continue flying using fuels made from waste, or – in the long-term – electricity.
But crucially, the growth in aviation must be constrained.
The CCC will make further recommendations on this issue in the coming months.
How was the news revealed?
In a letter to a tiny pressure group Plan B, the Department for Transport (DfT) aviation head Caroline Low said: “It may be necessary to consider the CCC’s recommended policy approach for aviation.”
This may sound like a cautious civil servant covering bases, but for Plan B it is an admission that the DfT will have to confront the notion that concerns over climate change may outweigh people’s desire to fly more.
Tim Crosland from Plan B told BBC News: “We’re pleased to see the government is taking seriously our request to review the expansion of Heathrow.
“Since the (Heathrow) proposal was approved there have been developments of immense significance.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report spelling out the dire consequences of exceeding 1.5C average global warming; Parliament’s recognition of a state of climate and ecological emergency; and the CCC’s advice that it is ‘necessary’ for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” Mr Crosland said.
“The government can either take the necessary action to avoid climate breakdown or it can stick to ‘business as usual’ and expand aviation, the most polluting mode of transport.