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Heathrow sustainability strategy questioned


Heathrow’s new sustainability plan, Heathrow 2.0, has revealed its ideas to make Heathrow airport zero carbon, and any new growth from expansion carbon neutral.

Plans to use carbon offsetting are included in the strategy, as are pledges to use 100% renewable energy at the airport in 2017. An airside ultra-low emission zone by 2025 is also proposed.

Although ambitions for growth from the new runway to be carbon neutral are included in the sustainability plan, Heathrow admits it does not have all the answers yet. The Centre of Excellence, a new research and development centre which Heathrow has given an initial £500,000 of funding, will be dedicated to finding solutions to excess carbon from constructing the new runway.

A goal for half of passengers to arrive by public transport by 2030 is listed, and improvements in public transport are included as part of Heathrow’s expansion plans.

However, an environmental group which brought legal proceedings against the government for breaching air quality limits has labelled Heathrow’s carbon neutral runway goals “simply nonsense”.

Environmental lawyers group ClientEarth won a High Court case in November last year, forcing the government to make more effective plans to tackle illegal levels of pollution. The group said it was “extremely sceptical” of the carbon offsetting plans detailed in the plan.

As a result of November’s court ruling, the goverment’s more stringent plans to bring pollution in line with legal limits will be available next month. This affects Heathrow’s expansion planning as it will change the environmental impact limits Heathrow will be expected to operate within.

“The suggestion from Heathrow that the construction and operation of a third runway could be carbon neutral on the basis of grand offsetting plans is simply nonsense. Not with-standing our view that expansion of the airport cannot take place until air pollution has been brought within legal limits, compensation is no justification for the government to permit, or the airport to construct major emissions-generating infrastructure involving air and land transport,” said ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton.

“We are extremely sceptical of offsetting schemes like this, because there are often serious questions around the robustness of such projects and their ability to deliver like-for-like benefits.”

Other climate change groups reacted well to the news that 100% renewable energy will be used to power Heathrow from April this year.

“We commend Heathrow for its new sustainability strategy and its efforts to respond to valid concerns about the sector’s environmental impact,” said The Climate Group acting chief executive Damian Ryan.

The Heathrow 2.0 plan was published this week and although it does not focus solely on expansion, it contains a significant amount of expansion-related goals on emissions and the impact of more flights on the local community.

“Heathrow 2.0. is a step-change for our business, and accelerates the shift in our industry towards a sustainable future for aviation,” said Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

“By focusing on the long-term, and through working together, we can deliver a world-leading economy - innovative, competitive, successful and sustainable.  And we can create a future where our business, our people, our communities, our country and our world, can all thrive.”

The plan was drafted with input from academics, community leaders, as well as Heathrow colleagues, passengers, commercial partners and suppliers.

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