The real question is whether we should build a new runway—not whereby James Beard / October 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
WWF has nothing against trade or travel. Both are crucial for growing our economies and broadening our horizons. But we do have a problem with aviation. A problem we all share. Climate change.
If environmental issues are raised at all in the airports debate, it tends to be noise and air quality that get the headlines. This is understandable. We generally see climate change as a terrible thing, but somehow remote from us. A problem for other parts of the world and future generations. Noise and air quality have much more tangible impacts on people’s lives today—people who vote for current politicians, in this country.
The media have simply framed the issue as a contest: Heathrow vs Gatwick. But the real question is whether, not where, to build a new runway. And the real answer is that it’s hard to see how a new runway can be compatible with our commitment to preserving a stable climate that supports sustained peace and prosperity.
The Climate Change Act—a wonderful piece of domestic (not EU) legislation—requires an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. The Government’s expert advisers at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) say that in order to meet this target, we need to hold annual aviation emissions to 37.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) in 2050.
According to the Davies Commission’s own numbers, UK aviation emissions are projected to hit about 40 Mt in 2050 even with no new runways at all. A new Heathrow runway will more than double the overshoot, increasing emissions to over 43 Mt. Even these worrying numbers optimistically assume that emissions would be dampened by a 2050 carbon price of almost £200 per tonne (in 2008 money)—if this doesn’t materialise then emissions would be even higher.
Notwithstanding the questionable logic of building a new runway you don’t actually want people to use, the Davies Commission estimated that this already optimistic carbon price would need to at least treble in order to limit emissions to the 37.5 Mt cap. The Campaign for Better Transport reckons this would increase the cost of a four-person return flight for a family holiday in New York by £270 to £850.
Alternatively, the Government could ask for more…