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Airports

Environmental concerns could still stymie UK expansion plans

14 May 2019
Extinction Rebellion activists outside Heathrow Airport in April. The UK government still officially endorses the third runway at Heathrow, but its support could waver if it heeds the conclusions of the latest Committee on Climate Change report. Source: Getty Images/Peter Summers

Key Points

  • DfT head of aviation casts doubt on the sustainability of UK expansion
  • Ministers may have to review their strategy, including plans to expand Heathrow, if they follow the recommendations of climate change advisors
  • Heathrow and the government have won many battles against anti-expansion activists, but the war is by no means over

Concerns over climate change could limit the growth of aviation in the UK and jeopardise the planned third runway at Heathrow Airport, after the head of aviation policy at the Department for Transport (DfT) warned that existing methods may be insufficient if the government tightens its aviation emissions reduction targets.

In a letter to environmental pressure group Plan B on 8 May, Caroline Low noted that ministers may have to review the UK Aviation Strategy (due to be clarified in a white paper later this year) following a recent report from the influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which is an independent statutory body that advises the UK government on environmental policy. The CCC recommended that capacity expansion plans at UK airports should be scaled back to restrict CO 2 emissions, even if the new generation of passenger aircraft is more efficient than its predecessors.

Official UK government policy remains to cut CO 2 output by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, but the CCC now urges a target of zero emissions. If the government accepts this challenge, said Low, the DfT would have to give “careful consideration” to aviation-related carbon emissions, including those from the planned third runway at Heathrow. This could even include revising the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) that was passed by Parliament in June 2018.

The Aviation Strategy was published as a green paper in December 2018, with about 200 policy proposals. It set out a “comprehensive vision” for the UK aviation industry in the next 30 years, said Catherine Adams, deputy director of aviation strategy at the DfT.

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To contact the author of this article, email Ben.Vogel@ihsmarkit.com


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