Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has railed against the UK’s “active support” for airport expansions, labelling it “beyond absurd”.
In a speech to MPs in Westminster she said: “The fact that we are speaking of ‘lowering’ instead of ‘stopping’ emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.
In the past week, 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Thunberg has met Pope Francis in the Vatican, addressed MEPs and MPs, and has taken part in an event with the leaders of all the UK’s main political parties with the exception of Theresa May. Her rise to international fame began after she started the “School strike for climate” movement in late 2018.
“The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels – for example, the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine – is beyond absurd.”
Airports currently undergoing expansion include London City Airport and Luton Airport.
Meanwhile Heathrow, Birmingham Airport and London Stansted Airport are all set to undergo expansions, with several more aiports including Gatwick also working on plans to increase its airport capacity.
A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: “Gatwick recognises the importance of further global and local action on climate change. We are committed to delivering any future growth plans in the most sustainable way and have already taken significant action to mitigate environmental impacts. This is consistent with government policy which supports airports in making the best use of existing runways, subject to environmental issues being addressed.”
Gatwick last year pledged to spend £500M on widening its emergency runway and bringing it into daily use as a second runway, as part of a plan to bring more than 100,000 additional flights a year to the airport by 2032.
The Airport Operators Association, a trade body which seeks to represent the interests of UK airports, added: “We recognise as an industry we will need to move further, faster and are working with the UK Government on how its planned Aviation Strategy can help us achieve [halving net CO2 emissions from airports by 2050].”
In addition, a London City Airport spokesperson said: “All industries, including aviation, recognise the importance of the climate change agenda, and airports continue to collaborate with airlines and manufacturers to adapt and make the sector more sustainable.
”Aviation has a strong track record in this area, continuously pushing the envelope in order to make operations cleaner, smarter and better for passengers and communities”
A Heathrow Airport spokesperson added: “Heathrow is committed to taking the necessary action to address our environmental impacts and is already demonstrating leadership in this area of aviation.
”We have published a plan that will deliver carbon neutral growth, through the promotion of cleaner aircraft technology, improvements to airspace and ground operations, sustainable aviation fuels, and carbon offsetting methods”
Heathrow airport expansion bosses have been pushing on with plans to build a third runway, despite being met by environmental challenges.
Five legal challenges to the expansion programme – from Heathrow Hub, environmentalists, London mayor Sadiq Khan and local councils – were simultaneously heard at the High Court at the end of March.
They were mounted after the House of Commons voted in favour of building the runway, approving transport secretary Chris Grayling’s National Policy Statement (NPS) by 415 votes to 119, in June last year.
Judges have yet to hand down their decision following the hearing. A ruling is expected by the end of May.
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