The proposed third runway at Heathrow got its long expected approval today, in spite of much protest and questioning.
- A recent report co-written by the Sustainable Development Comission and the Institute for Public Policy Research called on the government to completely rethink its aviation policy.
- Research by the Tyndall Centre (K, Anderson, A. Bows & P. Upham (2006)) shows that if the industry is allowed to expand as predicted, aviation alone would threaten the ability of the UK to meet its target of an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050.
- The EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has also expressed concern that if expansion goes ahead the UK may breach mandatory EU targets on nitrogen oxides which come into force in 2010.
All that before we even take into consideration the impact of high-altitude emissions released by aviation.
It is claimed that this expansion will bring many economic benefits to the UK. However, a report by CE-DELFT (CE-DELFT (2008) The Economics of Heathrow Expansion) questions the validity of the study used by ministers to assess the economic benefits of a third runway. It demonstrates that the official figures overestimate both the number of jobs generated and the value brought to Britain by extra business travellers.
The first most popular destination for travellers from Heathrow is Paris and the fourth most popular is Manchester, both of which can be reached by rail, which is much less carbon intensive.
With the economic downturn already affecting passenger numbers, and with solid grounds for concern that peak-oil may have a significant impact on the future viability of air travel, it seems increasingly unlikely that the benefits of this project could outweigh the costs.