Heathrow’s expansion: not bad for climate change

It seems obvious that expanding Heathrow Airport with a third runway is bad for climate change. But the thought does not bear inspection.

Let’s accept that we damage the planet when we fly. My point is that it doesn’t make any difference where the flying is done. The atmosphere spreads most greenhouse gases from their source to, well, everywhere.

To take London, as an example. It makes no difference to the planet whether the capital’s flights start or finish in HTR, GTW, LTN or STN or Boris’s mud flat special. Expand that thought and we get to the UK government’s problem. It makes no difference to the climate whether Europe’s flying is done to and from a UK airport or to and from AMS, CDG or FRA. But it does make a difference to the UK’s businesses and citizens.

None of this is to say that HTR is a good environmental or economic candidate for expansion. It’s just that – for any given amount of UK, EU or global flying – the UK will naturally want to ensure an optimum amount is done from the UK and from the optimum airport in the UK.

Is HTR the optimum candidate for expansion? I have no idea. The right answer is unlikely to emerge from a NIMBY trade-off between the locals who will be blighted by whatever choice is made.

It is also important to see that there is no contradiction between wanting to reduce carbon emissions and wanting to maximise the UK’s role in global transport. The UK government can very respectably argue that whatever level and type of flying is good for the environment (or is settled on regardless), the UK wants as big a share as it can get.

I don’t say the government should argue that. It may be the UK does not want to be a world transport hub. All I am pointing out is that there is no contradiction between seeking that role and leading the battle to reduce greenhouse gases, and even to reduce flying.


Arguments agaist Heathrow? How about the South of England is overcrowded and Heathrow is a horrendous ordeal for any traveller. or Heathrow- makes Lagos look organised, JFK less bureacratic, Lunghi airport well maintained and Paris look freindly Or: If you want to put people off flying forever then get them to go via Heathrow where they can spend two weeks going nowhere. Or even Heathrow - why protest when the people running it do such a better job at stopping people taking off that one would think it has been infiltrated by members of plane stupid. I suspect a fifth column is taking over the country... Finally Heathrow because incompetence on this scale takes a Joint Spanish and British combination of talents.

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Publication date

19 January 2009