18 Jan 2009

Heathrow runway undermines tougher advocacy of action on climate

Obama has only four years to save the world. That is the stark assessment of Nasa scientist and leading climate expert Jim Hansen who says that only urgent action by the new president can halt devastating climate change (see Observer article here). Depressing stuff - especially this last week when our Government has agreed to a third runway at Heathrow.

This Government's decision to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow drives the final nail into the coffin of its climate change policies. Britain's international advocacy of tougher climate change emission targets will be totally undermined, as no country will take seriously a government with plans to devote our entire oil usage to flying in the years beyond 2020. The runway might be what the BAA wants but it will generate millions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases every year. The Government seems to think that this does not matter, so long as other sectors reduce their emissions or if the aviation industry can trade carbon to somehow get itself off the hook and meet its already inadequate targets.

In short it is a complete disaster - the talk of 'green slots' and environmental restrictions is basically meaningless when you look at the details. The fact is that BAA/airlines ignore and seem to break all such promises. For example at the time of the T5 enquiry they promised no more runways would be needed.

Here is what Caroline Lucas said: "Business Secretary Peter Mandelson's claim that there's a "classic dilemma" between fulfilling the UK's climate change ambitions without losing economic competitiveness only demonstrates how little he understands about either. Our competitiveness will come from creating a sustainable economy in the future, not relying dirty, dinosaur-like industries which are subsidised to the tune of £10bn in the UK alone. Labour has taken the cynical step of playing this decision on Heathrow as a way of creating jobs at a time of rising unemployment, yet many commentators now agree that only a Green New Deal can create hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs that are truly sustainable into the future, through a massive investment in efficiency and renewables.

She continued: The Government’s claim that including aviation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme will help make it ‘sustainable’ belongs in cloud cuckoo land. The Commission’s own figures show that the result of the ETS will be that by 2020, instead of growing by 142%, the European aviation industry would still grow by around 135%! Essentially, the weak emissions trading rules will allow aviation to buy the right to emit from other sectors - but aviation itself will continue to grow massively. Furthermore, arguments that Heathrow must expand in order to keep up with other EU airports are misguided at best – or else deliberately dishonest. Research from HACAN shows that in 2007, a combined total of 139 million passengers used London’s airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City. That compares with 88 million who used all Paris airports, London’s closest European rival. Heathrow remains the busiest airport in Europe, and the busiest international airport in the world."

It seems clear expansion that Heathrow will clearly breach EU air quality standards, and could cost Britain millions of Euros in fines if the Commission won't agree to a derogation. It also clear that the notion that a third runway at Heathrow is a good way out of the recession is hugely deceptive - building work won't even start for years to come and to approve expansion at a time when UK airports are reporting a significant drop in passenger numbers seems incredibly foolish.

It has been wonderful to see so many folk protesting - I also just read that Mark Ereira-Guyer, long standing St Edmundsbury councillor and current leader of the Labour group, has resigned from the Labour Party in dismay at the Government decision to give the go-ahead to another runway at Heathrow, and has applied to join the Green Party. He said: "...with a heavy heart and great sadness and after 27 years of Labour Party membership, I have been compelled to hand in my Party membership. I believe that the Party has completely lost its connection with its membership and simply refuses to listen to those it should do."

Indeed the protests look set to continue and there are some who think that the runway will still not happen. Indeed if we are to be serious about climate change it cannot and in the reality of the climate change emergency whoever is in Government will veto aviation expansion as the most polluting and least essential form of travel.

Here is a comment from Cllr Ricky Knight, the South West Green Party Lead Candidate for 2009 European Elections: "Under Labour, UK CO2 emissions have barely changed since 1997 and that’s not counting the contributions from international shipping and aviation. Yet Brown and his ministers strut around the world, mouthing their spurious eco-credentials and claiming to be leading the way in tackling climate change. As the level of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise relentlessly year on year, we face a dangerous and uncertain future. Yet whilst scientists urge us with increasing stridency to cut emissions, Governments and big business spin and weave in order to avoid their commitments. To cram even more jets into the crowded skies over England, Gordon Brown thinks it’s fine to allow homes to be bulldozed, to subject hundreds of thousands of people to more noise, to allow ground level air pollution to rise and for millions more tonnes of carbon emissions to be pumped into the atmosphere. And in case we forget - he wants to do it all over again with a second runway at Stansted. Where the Home Counties lead, the South West, follows: Bristol, Staverton, Exeter, Plymouth, Newquay." See more comments re Heathrow on BBC website here.

Stop the runway

To stop the runway lots of exciting protests are being developed - see Airplot here. Along with actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith many are becoming proud owners of a small piece of land within the site of the proposed third runway at Heathrow. You can be a part of it as well - join over 10,000 other Airplot owners to become a part of the opposition that's going to stop the runway. The response has been phenomenal to Airplot - indeed at one point they could not cope with all the email queries. Meanwhile last Monday saw 500 turn out to Heathrow in Edwardian dress - referencing the suffragette movement - to protest about the third runway and have a picnic, with a string quartet, performance artists, art installations and a giant conga line around the departure lounge. They were met by equal numbers in another type of costume, but the protesters managed to keep it up for several hours, and there were no arrests!
Stop geo-engineering experiment

On a different but related topic I was shocked to read that a 'rogue' science ship is poised to carry out risky experimental fertilization of the Southern Ocean. This is likely the first of many coming attempts to begin "geo-engineering" the biosphere as a solution to climate change. RV Polarstern, a German research ship, is to dump twenty tons of iron sulphate over 300 square kilometres of the Scotia Sea, off Chile's coast, near the Antarctic Peninsula. The chemical cargo - normally used to treat lawns and sewage - is likely to provoke a massive algal bloom big enough to be seen from outer space. German and Indian scientists are hoping the experiment will show that such manmade algae blooms can provide a quick fix to climate change by absorbing carbon into the sea. Please write to the German government demanding that the RV Polarstern turn around and return to port. Insist that Germany agree to a permanent ban on large-scale geo-engineering experiments and implementation, until all other options are exhausted, and until global geo-engineering protocols are in place.

Here is one comment: "Is humanity so resistant to change that we will seek to construct a "Frankensphere", with dramatic unknown consequences, rather than reducing emissions, consumption and population?" Take action here.

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

The Sustainable Development Commission says the amount taken up by aviation would severely restrict future generations' ability to decide what they want to do about emissions from homes, food production and other forms of travel.

Guardian 16th Jan 2009