UK government’s Heathrow expansion threatens global climate change fight

Press release - 15 January, 2009
The UK government’s decision to expand Heathrow airport, announced today, is a serious threat to the fight against global climate change. At full capacity, an expanded Heathrow airport would become the biggest single source of carbon emissions in the UK.

Developed countries must take steps to ensure their carbon emissions are cut by the upper end of 25-40%, by 2020, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Already aviation accounts for 13% of the UK's climate impact - a figure that is rapidly growing. An expanded Heathrow would make it extremely difficult for the UK government to lead on emissions cuts in international climate talks in Copenhagen later this year.

"The UK government's decision to expand Heathrow is extraordinary given the realities of global warming. It is time for governments to get serious and take effective action to tackle climate change. This is a dangerous step, not just for the UK, but the world as a whole," said Greenpeace International Executive Director Gerd Leipold.

 "We'll fight this every step of the way. The movement against this runway is huge and growing. We have MPs from all the major parties, organisations representing millions of people, the country doesn't want this expansion and we have the science on our side," said Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven.

Crucially, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon accepted in his statement that there would be a sizable increase in CO2 emissions from a new runway, but that electrification of cars would - supposedly - offset those increases as would emissions caps and improved aviation technology. However, vehicle electrification is meant to contribute to the government's 20% renewable energy target, not offset a third runway.

The proposal to set in place a cap on emissions from Heathrow will be policed by the Climate Change Committee, an advisory body with no power to punish Spanish-owned BAA, which owns Heathrow, or the UK government for non-compliance. The government's commitment to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, which the new package is supposedly designed to protect, is full of loopholes - for example, Britain can simply buy in carbon credits from other countries to meet the target.

In addition, a marginally more fuel-efficient plane will not solve the problem of climate change. "Hoping for an aeroplane that doesn't cause global warming is like holding out for a cigarette that doesn't cause cancer," Sauven stressed.

Earlier this week Greenpeace announced it had bought the land earmarked for the new runway development and is now co-owner of the plot with award-winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and Conservative Party green advisor Zac Goldsmith. Over 12,000 people from across the world have signed up to be "beneficial owners" of the land, meaning each name will appear on the title deeds and will be able to be represented at inquires in the bid to stop the expansion of Heathrow (2).

Other contacts: Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Press Officer, +44 (0) 7717 802 891

Notes: (1) Department for Transport’s ‘UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts’ November 2007 states that in 2005 Heathrow emitted 18.2 million tonnes of CO2, with 476,000 flights. Using this as a base line, an extra 226,000 flights at Heathrow (bringing total numbers of flights to 702,000) would result in an additional 8.64 million tonnes of C02. The Energy Information Administration’s website documents the emissions of countries across the world: Over 13,500 people have signed up to become “beneficial owners” of the plot. See to registerPer capita, Britons emit more from flying than any other people elsewhere on the planet (603kg per person per year, compared to 434kg for Irish and 275 kg for Americans).A full briefing on Heathrow expansion can be found at