MPs sceptical Heathrow can mitigate environmental impacts

23rd February 2017

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  • Mitigation ,
  • Carbon Trading ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Transport


Alun Housago

Plans to mitigate the effects of expanding Heathrow airport on air quality, carbon emissions and noise are unconvincing, MPs on the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have said.

The committee last looked at the issue in December 2015, and concluded that a new runway should not be approved until the airport could demonstrate compliance with key environmental conditions.

The government has since backed proposals to build a new runway at Heathrow and has launched a consultation on a national policy statement on airports. Publishing an updated critique of the plans, the MPs said they had seen little evidence of the step change in the government’s approach they had previously called for.

The committee’s new report warns of unrealistic modelling of the impact of Heathrow expansion on climate change, which it claims would leave a ‘black hole’ in the 2050 carbon budget.

Aviation is not included in the UK’s carbon budgets. However, in calculating recommendations for the fifth carbon budget, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) assumed that UK aviation emissions would be no more than 2005 levels (37.5 MtCO2) in 2050.

This is in line with a government target set in 2009. But it is less than the carbon reduction targets for other sectors, such as energy or industry, reflecting the technical challenges of developing non-fossil fuel alternatives for aviation fuel, the report notes.

However, the CCC noted that the modelling used by the government assumes that carbon emissions from aviation will be higher than its recommendations. Lord Deben, chair of the CCC warned in a letter to business secretary Greg Clark that this gap would have to be filled by emissions cuts in other sectors.

The CCC had ‘limited confidence’ that such reductions would be achieved, given that aviation emissions at 2005 levels already assumed emissions cuts from other sectors of 85%, Deben wrote.

In their report, MPs added that the government’s modelling also assumes continued participation in the EU emissions trading system up to 2030, which is now in doubt due to the decision to leave the EU.

Mary Creagh, chair of the committee, said: ‘Worryingly, the government looks set to water down the limits on aviation emissions recommended by its own climate change advisors. That would mean other sectors of the economy, like energy and industry, having to cut their carbon emissions even deeper and faster.’

The MPs want the government to publish an independently scrutinised strategy to reduce carbon emissions from international aviation and set out the resulting costs on other sectors to test its feasibility and desirability.

The committee said government proposals to reduce noise from an expanded Heathrow lacked ambition, with no detail on the timing of a night flight ban and little evidence that predictable respite for local communities could be achieved. It supports plans to establish an independent authority to enforce aviation noise, but is concerned that its powers would be watered down.

On air quality, MPs are concerned that the government is relying on people switching to cleaner cars to reduce pollution. The government has given no guarantees that EU air quality targets will be maintained once the UK leaves the bloc. The air quality strategy, due to be published by the government by the end of April, must ensure that airport expansion is not granted at the expense of public health, they added.


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