Heathrow aims to make third runway carbon neutral
02 March 2017 | Adaptation
The huge growth in flights from Heathrow’s planned new runway could be carbon neutral, according to an ambition revealed by the airport.
The 260,000 extra flights a year anticipated from the third runway would make the airport the UK’s largest source of carbon emissions. But Heathrow’s new sustainability plan suggests other ways to offset the leap in emissions, including by restoring British peat bogs.
The new plan, called Heathrow 2.0, sets a wide range of targets to tackle carbon emissions, illegal levels of local air pollution, and noise. The airport will use 100% renewable electricity from April and aim to get 35,000 more people a day using public transport rather than arriving in cars by 2030 and double that by 2040.
The third runway, now backed by the government, is highly controversial, with critics arguing it could dash hopes of meeting the UK’s climate change targets and solving local air pollution problems. About 95% of Heathrow’s carbon emissions come from aircraft, but aviation is one of the toughest sectors in which to cut carbon, as the electric batteries than can power cars are too heavy for planes.
John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow, said: “We are not doing this to convince somebody that we are anything we aren’t. We are setting out what we are going to do and people can judge us by our actions. We are going to play our part in the challenge of climate change.”
The plan sets out firm short-term targets, including removing the last 5% of flights made by the most polluting aircraft by 2020 and cutting the number of late-running flights arriving in the middle of the night – currently about one a day – by half this year.
The aspiration to make growth from the new runway carbon-neutral relies significantly on the global aviation deal agreed in October to offset most new emissions after 2020. The most novel aspect of Heathrow’s new plan to explore the restoration of peatlands in the UK to offset carbon, which would be “a very British solution”, said Holland-Kaye.
Peatlands cover 12% of the UK but 80% are in poor condition. “The opportunity is absolutely massive,” said the environmentalist Tony Juniper, who was a paid consultant on Heathrow’s new plan. “The vast majority of peatlands are degraded and it is releasing billions of tonnes of carbon over decades.” He said restoration would also benefit flood prevention and wildlife.
Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye said plans to explore the restoration of UK peatlands to offset carbon would be a ‘very British solution’. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
Holland-Kaye said it was vital to also set out longer term plans even if it was unclear as yet how to achieve them: “There are some really challenging aspirations around carbon, and even if we don’t get all the way there, every tonne of carbon we are able to prevent going into the atmosphere is a tonne less that our children have to deal with.”
Tim Johnson of the Aviation Environment Federation said: “The plan aspires to a cleaner and quieter future but its detail is largely concerned with short-term, incremental improvements that are not up to the challenges that would come with runway expansion. There is nothing in this report to suggest that we are any closer to finding effective solutions.”
Holland-Kaye said Heathrow’s passenger numbers have grown by 80% since the early 1990s, but that road traffic to the airport has stayed broadly the same, thanks to new public transport links.
The new runway would open by 2025 at the earliest, and Holland-Kaye said the new HS2 train line and possible new rail links to the west and south could be a “gamechanger”.
Heathrow is planning to increase the number of short-haul flights within the UK, and will discount their landing fees this year. Critics say such flights should be replaced by rail travel but Holland-Kaye said they were important in helping all regions of the UK to grow. “Unless we have an economy which pays for a shift to being low-carbon, we are not going to make that shift,” he said.
Source: The Guardian