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Rejection of Boris Island brings climate change to the fore

4th September, 2014

On Tuesday (3/9/14) , the Airports Commission published a report explaining why the Thames Estuary airport proposal, the infamous “Boris Island”, would not be taken forward as an option for expanding airport capacity in the South East.

In its decision document, the Commission was clear that in order to meet national carbon goals, a new runway would mean that aviation emissions are increasingly concentrated in a single location, specifying in relation to the Thames Estuary:

If UK carbon emissions are to be kept within the overall cap, concentrating a very high number of flights in one location could limit the scope for growth elsewhere and hence reduce the overall diversity of the UK airports system.” (p.13)

The Commission’s conclusion is consistent with the findings of our recent analysis for WWF-UK. Our report suggested that the Airports Commission’s statement applies to a new runway anywhere in the South East. However, It is a breakthrough that the Airports Commission has acknowledged this likely implication of airport expansion. The Commission is still yet to make a clear statement about the extent to which runways elsewhere may need to be constrained if a decision is taken to expand airport capacity in the South East.

The need for constraints on aviation demand in order to manage emissions was recently acknowledged by Sir Howard Davies in his evidence to the London Assembly. He told the assembly that keeping aviation demand to a level consistent with climate commitments would require a significant increase in the cost of flying (see below).


Lib Dems confirm commitment to no net new runways

On the same day as the Thames Estuary decision, the Financial Times reported that the Liberal Democrats will announce in their ‘pre-manifesto’ that they will maintain their opposition to a net increase in UK runway capacity.

Despite there being a reported softening in the party’s position earlier in the year, the FT reported that the Lib Dems decided to maintain their position “on the basis of the impact of aviation on climate change and the effect of Heathrow’s expansion on voters in southwest London.”

This restatement of the party’s opposition to airport capacity growth, while being flexible, does throw a spanner in the work of Sir Howard Davies to build political consensus around the idea of keeping all options open until the Commission’s final report. It also puts pressure on Labour and the Conservatives to set out their views on airport expansion before the election.

Pressure on the Conservatives is also building from within the party with Boris Johnson demanding that David Cameron and the Conservatives “stick” to the party’s pledge to oppose a third runway at Heathrow. Johnson said that politicians should come out of their “fox holes” and state their position on airport expansion.

The decision to reject the Thames Estuary airport may have been an obvious one for the Airports Commission but the consequence is that political parties have fewer places to hide when it comes to their policy on airport expansion and the issue of climate change could persuade politicians to be more vocal about their positions.


Image credit: Gareth Milner via Flickr