London Heathrow Expansion: 3d Runway = Runaway Climate Breakdown

by | 30 May 2019 | External Article

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Pic: Reclaim the Power

Even before the intended £18billion further expansion, Heathrow was the UK’s biggest emitter of Greenhouse Gases at a time of Climate Breakdown emergency. Another runway would boost current flights of 480,000 to 740,000 seeing passengers rise to 132 million effectively creating a new airport the size of London Gatwick.

Article by Rising Tide UK

For 2 weeks in March, the High Court heard Judicial Review evidence from Plan B, Friends of the Earth (FoE(EW&NI) & the Mayor of London/Local Authorities-supported by Greenpeace, on the expansion of Heathrow Airport, primarily on grounds that the Airports National (Planning) Policy Statement (A-NPS) was inconsistent with the Government’s commitments on climate change under the Paris Agreement and inconsistent with the public’s demand for a safe climate future.
On the one hand, the Government promises “international leadership on climate change” and on the other it’s planning major expansion of the UK’s aviation capacity, one of the most polluting forms of transport, which would preclude the UK from making an appropriate contribution even to the minimum standard of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The UN body IPCC last year warned that the consequences for life on earth of crossing the 1.5˚C temperature limit are dire and appalling (whether in terms of the environment, the economy or international security); and that without urgent and radical change the world is likely to hit that limit any time from 2030, just 11 years away. The UK Government claims to respect the science but its actions ironically “fly in the face” of scientific advice.

Losing Case on the Climate

london aviation action
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Pic: RisingTideUK

On May Day the adjudication was passed down with humanity losing the case on the climate, environment, air quality, noise, wildlife & pollution grounds. Pretty much the judgment seemed to suggest we morally won but lost on The Law, which, as we all know is distinctly different to Justice. Victory for “business as usual” for the head-in-sand buried ostrich judiciary, our immoral government and bottom liners Heathrow Ltd, all oblivious to the oblivion of Climate Breakdown in full swing.

However Plan B & FoE(EW&NI) on 8th May have now appealed against this despairing Judgement.
In Paragraph 586 of the Judgement the Law Lords say “For the sake of completeness, we should add that Plan B Earth also asked the Secretary of State to review the A-NPS under section 6 of the PA (Planning Act) 2008 on the basis that the development of scientific knowledge as reflected in the Paris Agreement was a “significant change in circumstances” upon which the policy had been decided. By letter dated 27 November 2018, that request was declined. That decision was judicially reviewable, but no challenge was made.

The day after the Judgement on 2nd May, in a new soon to be used dictionary definition of “irony”, the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK Government’s advisory body on Climate Breakdown, “complete” with an enormous coach & horses 3rd runway sized hole, published their long awaited, hopefully not posthumous Report on incorporating/updating the UK’s Climate Budgets/Policy/Targets – to take account of the Paris Accord’s targets which the government have so far failed to take account of or act upon.They did say though that the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2.

Climate & Ecological Emergency declared

The Labour Party, Government opposition, tabled a motion carried by the UK Parliament to declare a climate & ecological emergency, though like most of these passed by Local Authorities it mainly outlined how terrible it all is and something must be done. Later that day, Plan B wrote to the Government requesting that it review its plans to expand Heathrow Airport in light of:
“Parliament’s recognition yesterday of the existence of a climate and ecological emergency; and the publication of the Committee on Climate Change’s report, which recommends a net zero target for 2050.”
The Planning Act 2008 section 6 provides for a review to take place where there has been a relevant change of circumstances. There’s no excuses for the Labour Party either as with the exception of the Labour MP for the area greatly affected by Heathrow expansion, John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) and a few others, the Labour Party allegedly submitting to suggestion in a letter to their MP’s from (affiliate & major donor) Unite-the Union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey, voted for the 3rd runway to go ahead in spite of climate breakdown objections. Unite have also condemned the money spent on Judicially Reviewing the decision (A-NPS).
McDonnell though, said many times during the previous Heathrow campaign, on many platforms around the time of The Camp for Climate Action’s 2nd Camp at Sipson, Heathrow in 2007 and is still saying, that this campaign will not be won without direct action.

UK Committee on Climate Change not taking Aviation serious enough

The former Tory Government Minister John Gummer (now Lord Deben) is Chair of the CCC. He said in their Press Release accompanying their Report on 2nd May:
“The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Ten years after the Climate Change Act became law, now is the right moment to set a more ambitious goal. Achieving a ‘net-zero’ target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement; the pact which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015 to curb dramatically the polluting gases that cause climate change………This is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change. Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are apparent increasingly……… Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasised the vital importance of limiting further warming to as low a level as possible and the need for deep and rapid emissions reductions in order to do so. The CCC’s recommended targets, which cover all sectors of the UK, Scottish and Welsh economies, are achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and should be put into law as soon as possible, the Committee says.”
The Report’s suggestions on aviation are scant and weak.
“Air travel will become more expensive because of the slow development of alternatives to polluting kerosene to power planes. Air passengers may be required to pay to offset the costs of their emissions from 2035.”

The report advocates frequent flyers — the 15 per cent of people responsible for 70 per cent of flights — “to catch trains and cut down on long-haul travel”. The allusion to the off-setting of CO2 by planting trees panders to Heathrow Chief Executive Holland-Kaye, who has argued for some time it can off-set its CO2 emissions from a 3rd runway by restoring peat bogs, reiterated in the Daily Torygraph article from 2nd May “Heathrow is flying the flag for zero-carbon aviation”. We kid you not.

The reason for the scarcity & weakness is revealed first on page 35 of the Executive Summary to the Report:

Aviation……….ICAO and IMO, the international agencies for aviation and shipping, have adopted targets to tackle emissions. The scenarios in this report go beyond those targets, suggesting increased ambition and stronger levers will be required in the long run. We will write to the Government later this year on its approach to aviation, building on the advice in this report.
What a cop-out! Wouldn’t it be “convenient” if that advice to the Government didn’t arrive until after the Public Inquiry on the Heathrow Development Consent Order (DCO – the planning application)?

Conflicting Policy Announcements

The Government are not alone in incoherent conflicting policy announcements. The Civil Service are a mirror image of confusion. Last year in a speech to a UK Aviation Industry conference “National policy priorities for airport expansion in the UK
”, Sarah Bishop, Deputy Director, Aviation Policy, Department for Transport said:
……so we are expecting that there will be capacity constraints once more, even with a third runway at Heathrow. …….Given that we don’t expect that runway to be operational until 2026 we’ve also made a policy statement around all other airports being able to make best use of their existing runways to ensure that we make the most of that existing capacity that’s there in that meantime across the South East. ………So the forecast that we have, showed that capacity in the South East up to 2030 will be well-served with an additional runway at Heathrow, but there may be a need for a runway beyond that looking out to 2050.

So even with a 3rd runway they were/are looking to have that capacity from South-East existing runways and maybe further unfettered lunatic 4th runway expansion too.

Then on 11th May according to this report “Climate change ‘may curb growth in UK flying“, in a letter to 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.” – meaning ministers may have to review aviation strategy.

Under the previous 80% CO2 reduction scenario, aviation had a privileged position. Its expansion would be counter-balanced by additional CO2 cuts in other sectors, like industry. The CCC now makes it clear this is not an option in a zero-carbon Britain and growth in aviation must be constrained. As Tim Crossland from Plan B says in this report:
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 but it can’t have it both ways.

Stop Heathrow Expansion

We must stop Heathrow expansion for any hope of the UK making a fair contribution to the Paris Agreement. As above, both Plan B and Friends of the Earth (EW&NI) are appealing the JR. This is an expensive process. In particular Plan B are a small charity bringing the case directly with the support of a network of volunteer lawyers and they need to raise funds to cover potential cost liability. Please help fight for our common future by donating: #NoToHeathrow #YesToOur Future

In the meantime of the JR Appeal being heard, Heathrow Ltd are drawing up their detailed plans for the new runway as part of the DCO process. After publishing a Master Plan (detailing what goes where and a new terminal 6), these plans (including moving the M25 London orbital motorway) will be consulted upon. Currently this is targeted from June 2019 (including the Environmental Impact Assessment) in an 18-month process where views will be sought on the proposed scheme for expansion and how Heathrow will manage and mitigate the effects of this growth on local communities (that means wiping out local villages!). The consultation is statutory and Heathrow is required by Government to hold it to determine the preferred plan for expansion. After this consultation the DCO will be submitted in 2020 under the Planning Act 2008. The DCO application will include requests for a range of powers and authorisations, including powers for the compulsory acquisition of land.

All this with a view to going before a Planning Inquiry later in 2020 when there will be another chance to challenge Heathrow at this Public Inquiry stage when the DCO submission is made to the Planning Inspectorate. This is required for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) like Heathrow. The original JR Judgement & the Government’s Barrister both said that the JR arguments made may be more appropriate to that stage.

However, following a public examination period led by the Planning Inspectorate, any recommendation by the Public Inquiry Planning Inspector would merely be advisory for the Secretary of State to make a decision which can be, for political reasons…..and currently that person is the terminally incompetent Secretary of State for Nincompoops, sorry Transport, Chris “failing” Grayling, who wasted £50bn on now cancelled post-Brexit contracts, some for ferry companies who owned no ferries; was responsible for multitudinous rail timetabling and franchising cock-ups; and is responsible for the looming concrete eating Hi-Speed Rail 2 project to save 15 minutes from London to Birmingham.

Heathrow would be looking to get the DCO granted with final permission in 2021 and to open the new runway in 2026 after starting to build just before the scheduled UK General Election in 2022.

Heathrow Airspace & Future Operations Consultation

In addition to the 3rd Runway expansion, a belt and braces, fall-back, 25,000 super-extra flights expansion, above the 480,000 cap, – consultation was held by Heathrow closing on 4th March 2019.
In Summary: The Government laid down some codicils that if a third runway can be built there would need to be a tougher night flight regime – a break of 6½ hours instead of the current 5 – and wherever possible, periods of respite for all communities. So:
  • Runway alternation in West London would be cut from half a day to a third of the day, to allow for alternation on a third runway if it is built and the consultation asked for views on how this should be implemented;
  • Significant changes to airspace were proposed to allow for vast swathes of London and the Home Counties, which currently get all-day flying, to get noise respite for the first time, applying to both arrivals and departures ;
  • The night period when there are no scheduled flights allowed would be extended from 5 hours to six and a half hours and views were sought on how this should operate;
  • Views were also sought on whether ‘westerly operation’ should remain – this is where aeroplanes continue to fly as if a west wind is blowing when there is an east wind (of up to 5 knots);
  • plus steeper approaches to runways;
They were also consulting on “anything you think we should take into account in your area when designing new flight paths” – so the extra emissions contributing to further climate breakdown were within the scope of this consultation!
Although this consultation has now closed it is still useful to look at current Government Guidance on respite in the Air Navigation Guidance 2017: – notably 1.2-4 and 3.5.
The campaign group HACAN has a 4 page summary of the consultation document :
Heathrow is in the process of reviewing responses and archiving them. After this they will publish detailed flight paths for consultation in 2021/22, with a view to having the new flight paths in place by 2026.

Aviation Green Paper on Future Strategy

Overarching all this the UK government is consulting NOW on a new Aviation “Green Paper” (“Aviation 2050: The future of UK aviation strategy”)   – for a grim future where they have ignored the peril of climate breakdown to continue business as usual by returning to the bankrupt “Predict & Provide” attitude to Aviation Expansion with zero demand management. Some of this is being driven by the “Brexit” panic of the UK leaving the European Union with a desperate attempt to hang on to trade. To issue even a draft Paper before the CCC had reported on bringing UK targets into line with the Paris Accord, this document is wholly inappropriate and inadequate with many flaws and emissions omissions.

The final (probably “White”) Paper will be finalized and planned for release in the second half of 2019. However, for presumably the above reasons, the consultation period was extended until 20th June. Please make your views known.

There’s also a NATS (National Air Traffic Service) paper on the new type of flight paths being introduced, and a CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) paper on past and future noise levels.

In summary the Green Paper:

  • sets out to cater for the significant growth in flying it predicts will take place in the UK and around the world;
  • argues that this growth can take place without exceeding the UK’s aviation climate targets (how we all laughed in tragedy);
  • assumes a third runway will be built at London Heathrow;
  • contains some proposals on noise that some campaigners have been lobbying for over many years;
  • describes the implications of the move from ground-based technology to satellite technology when designing flight paths;
  • and sets out measures to improve and monitor air pollution from aircraft.
The campaign group HACAN has further detail of these points.
Furthermore, the Paper fails to set out how continued aviation growth is compatible with existing environmental commitments, with the UK Government appearing content to let action on CO2 to only be delivered at an international level. This attitude is in stark contrast to even the previous advice in June 2018 from the UK CCC which has been ignored. They then warned that higher levels of aviation emissions in 2050 “must not be planned for” and raised a series of concerns about how one additional runway would not be compatible with efforts to reduce emissions, let alone more. They also warned (in terms of emissions) that expansion of Heathrow would require significant operational restrictions at all other UK airports. The Paper also consults on the decision-making process for delivering a further runway in the UK by 2050. The UK Dept. for Transport claims that the need for exploring another runway is due to higher growth than was predicted in 2015. (see above Civil Service comment).
This Green Paper expects growth to take place at most airports:
“aviation’s share of emissions is likely to continue to increase as other sectors decarbonise more quickly. This means that aviation could represent 25% of the UK’s (My addition:-much then) smaller budget for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”
The recent report from the CCC recognises that because it is likely to be largely dependent on kerosene for some decades to come, aviation will not be able to de-carbonise in the way most other sectors will. It accepts that, even with the use of some hybrid/electric aircraft from the 2040s, aviation: “would still result in emissions of 31 MtCO2e in 2050. This is because a fully zero-carbon plane is not anticipated to be available by 2050, particularly for long-haul flights which account for the majority of emissions.” This would allow for “a 60% increase in passenger demand above 2005 levels by 2050 (demand is currently around 30% higher).” Currently around 20% of passengers are frequent fliers (more than one return flight per year) and account for two thirds of all flights taken. While most of these people are wealthy – top 2 deciles of income – not all are. This increase is less than the 90% the Department for Transport is currently predicting but way too much for a planet we’ve burdened with a climate breakdown emergency. At this rate by 2050 we’re toast.
There are set out three main measures to tackle CO2:
  • A “long term vision and pathway for addressing UK aviation’s impact on climate change” which will be kept under review to take account of new technological, improved operational efficiencies, market-based measures, sustainable fuels as well as demand management and behaviour change.”;
  • “to negotiate in ICAO (the UN body responsible for tackling international aviation climate emissions) for a long term goal for international aviation that is consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement” ;  and
  • “to support and strengthen the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).”. – This has a discredited reputation as an international scheme for aviation to off-set its emissions.

These measures proposed are inadequate and untested. There is no guarantee the rest of the world will play ball in agreeing to a long term goal to cut emissions from international aviation or even to accept a tougher off-setting scheme. Equally, while technology is likely to result in cleaner aircraft, the timescales remain uncertain and it won’t deliver that necessary. In addition to a higher emissions reduction target, this ailing Government needs to commit to publicly monitor the progress being made, by much stronger demand management measures and regulation will be required.