UK Can Still Meet Carbon Targets with Heathrow Expansion, Government Says

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The addition of a third runway at Heathrow will not endanger the UK’s ability to meet its legally binding climate change targets, the government has claimed in a new Airports National Policy Statement released today.

The document, which acts as a public consultation on the controversial proposals to expand airport capacity at Heathrow, sets out the policy framework which could allow construction of a third runway to go ahead.

It claims that one new runway in the South East of England can be delivered within the carbon reduction obligations under the Climate Change Act, which mandates an 80 per cent cut in national emissions by 2050. “The government agrees with the Airports Commission’s assessment that a new runway is deliverable within the UK’s climate change obligations,” the report reads.

The government has said the development cannot go ahead unless it is proven it will not threaten its ability to meet national climate targets, but it does concede some increase in emissions may occur.

“Any increase in carbon emissions alone is not a reason to refuse development consent, unless the increase in carbon emissions resulting from the project is so significant that it would have a material impact on the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets, including carbon budgets,” the report notes.

The government also requires any development must show clear action to limit the carbon impact of the project, from using electric vehicle fleets to steps to lower emissions from airport buildings and more efficient runway taxiing patterns for planes.

However, many environmental campaigners remain deeply concerned about the project’s prospective impact, and say there is little indication from the government over how emissions from the additional runway will be mitigated.

“This National Policy Statement doesn’t contain any actual policy on climate change. The government claims a new runway can be delivered within climate goals, but without firm commitments and a credible plan this is merely wishful thinking,” James Beard, climate change specialist at WWF-UK, said in a statement. “If the government keeps ignoring the Heathrow carbon problem it runs the risk of breaching the Climate Change Act. The forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan must set out how emissions from the new runway will be dealt with before the National Policy Statement is finalised.”

Air quality is also a major issue the airport’s expansion will have to address. The government insists Heathrow expansion must be deliverable within legal limits on air pollution set by the EU. However, in its revised modelling for Heathrow expansion it admits that although the project will not impact on air quality compliance there is a risk that expansion will delay compliance.

Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said there are still many unanswered questions over how the expansions plans comply with the UK’s environmental ambitions.

“Labour has consistently been pushing for a decision on runway expansion in the South East of England so after years of dither and delay, it is welcome that progress is finally being made,” he said in a statement. “However, there are still outstanding issues including how Heathrow expansion can be squared with meeting the UK’s climate change objectives and demonstrating that local noise and environmental impacts can be minimised.”

He continued: “This can be achieved, but only in the context of a coherent aviation strategy that works for the country not just London. It starts with confirming our membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency, as well as action on cleaner fuels and improving road and rail access to our international gateway airports.”

The consultation is open until May 25 2017, with a final decision on Heathrow expansion expected at the end of the year.