Planned growth of Heathrow and other airports ‘will stop UK hitting climate change targets’

Plans for a 50% increase in Heathrow flights by 2050 were unveiled last week

Phoebe Weston
Science Correspondent
Tuesday 25 June 2019 19:19
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Heathrow 3rd runway: defeat for opponents but the struggle continues

The planned growth of Heathrow and other airports is likely to stop the UK hitting its 2050 net-zero climate goals, researchers have warned.

UK airports are set to increase capacity by 59 per cent by 2050. That’s more than double the increase accounted for in a report outlining the net-zero target by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), according to researchers.

Last week, plans were unveiled for a 50 per cent increase in Heathrow flights by 2050, including the building of a third runway.

This planned expansion does not align with the government-backed target, according to Dr Declan Finney from Leeds University and Dr Giulio Mattioli from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany.

In a guest post for the Carbon Brief website, they wrote: “That’s not to mention approved expansions at Stansted and Leeds-Bradford airports, which, combined, would add capacity of 20 million passengers.

“Even if no other airports were to expand, approval of these projects will need to be urgently reconsidered if the government is to follow the plan set out by the CCC report.”

Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases, currently accounting for around 7 per cent of total emissions in the UK.

This share is likely to increase as other sectors decarbonise – and by 2050 it could represent as much as 25 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, researchers claim.

The CCC has accounted for some growth in aviation, but said it cannot be “unfettered”.

The researchers said the planned expansions were not the result of “inevitable” increases in demand. Instead, increased airport capacity is likely to mean cheaper flights, which means people are inclined to fly more frequently.

Dr Finney and Dr Mattioli said higher levels of reforestation or increased use of carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) might compensate for airport expansion. However, the government is failing to meet targets for tree planting and there is little funding available for CCS.

As Boris Johnson’s journey to Downing Street looks increasingly certain, campaigners against Heathrow expansion are calling for the frontrunner for prime minister to scrap the planned third runway.

Mr Johnson, who is MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip – which adjoins Heathrow – has fiercely opposed the government’s preferred option of building the runway at Europe’s busiest airport.

Heathrow Airport was contacted for comment.

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