Let’s talk about Carbon

Heathrow control tower and plane (c) Heathrow media centre

The Friends of the Earth protest at the High Court today will not tell you the whole story about climate change.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that faces us in the UK and wider world, we should all agree on that.

However, it is a problem that should be shared by all and to argue scrapping expansion would solve climate change is wrong. The enemy is not aircraft but carbon. The reality is that you can’t uninvent aircraft or the aviation industry, the trick is to target the real culprit – carbon emissions.

Putting to one side the economic benefits of expansion – jobs, new skills and investment, let’s look at some of the anti-expansion arguments.

Figures from the government’s committee on climate change show that overall emissions fell by 5% between 2015-2016 and the UK is on target to meet its carbon budget targets.

Although transport accounts for 25% of emissions, this consists of mainly petrol and diesel cars. Since 1990 UK emissions have fallen 43%, while the economy has grown over 70%, while carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – is down 36 per cent.

Many factors can help to limit emissions, like better flight seat occupancy; improved fuel efficiency and changes in airline routes.

Heathrow must play its part in tackling climate change if it wants to expand and as part of this role has announced its plan for future growth to be carbon neutral. Heathrow’s objectives for neutral carbon growth are based around:

Aircraft technology: the goal is to continue to improve the fuel efficiency of the global fleet of aircraft by 1.5% a year until 2020.

Airspace and operations: airspace needs to be modernised to take advantage of satellite navigation technology that exists, allowing much more efficient flight, lowering carbon emissions.

Sustainable fuels: is a critical ingredient for the aviation industry in the UK to reduce carbon emissions. They are made from agricultural or industrial waste and provide an alternative to the traditional fossil fuels that power jet engines.

Carbon pricing and offsetting: aviation can help by investing with other sectors and activities that can reduce or capture emissions where they can do it more cheaply and quickly.

To achieve these goals Heathrow must also meet the wider objectives of the government to control and reduce emissions and to meet their international obligations.

Any vision for travel and transport should be a part of wider urban, road and infrastructure development. This can reduce traffic and enhance air quality, reduce congestion and noise.

There is a lot to be done, and it is important to see aviation playing its part.

Graham Stewart
Head of Communications