Innovation at Heathrow will help cut carbon globally

Posted On: 
3rd December 2019

Executive Director of the Back Heathrow Campaign, Parmjit Dhanda, calls on the next Government to commit to build much-needed new infrastructure at Heathrow, setting the bar for the rest of the world and to help reduce carbon emissions. 

"The simple fact is this; without the expansion of Heathrow, the imperative to develop the innovative solutions to cut carbon globally will be hit", writes Parmjit Dhanda.
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At the heart of this general election is the tension between creating the jobs that drive economic growth and the desire to tackle climate change with a new level of urgency. This needn’t be a choice between the two - we can do both.

Heathrow expansion is a prime example of the choices we face. Although the issue divides opinion, it’s worth recalling that opinion was not divided when MPs looked at the proposal for a new runway in detail, debated it at length and then chose to support it with a majority of 296. Neither is opinion divided in the communities closest to the airport, where more people support it than oppose it (according to Populus Polling) in sixteen of the eighteen neighbouring parliamentary constituencies.

And yet there are still tensions in the debate. At the epicentre of that tension is the rise of climate change up the political agenda. As the debate rages, target dates to achieve net zero carbon emissions have varied from the year 2050, to 2045 to 2030 to 2025 depending on whether you are the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens or Extinction Rebellion.

The simple fact is this; without the expansion of Heathrow, the imperative to develop the innovative solutions to cut carbon globally will be hit. We will achieve so much more by using what we learn at an expanded Heathrow, under the UK’s strict planning regime, to positively influence others around the world as they look to grow their economies. 

Britain’s experience can play a unique role and help others reduce emissions. Cars, trucks, and buses in the UK are changing, with carbon emissions planned to reach zero by 2040 as we move away from petrol and diesel engines. This level of innovation would never have occurred if UK governments hadn’t brought in legislation that has forced us to change behaviours. Heathrow has successfully incentivised cleaner and quieter aircraft through tariffs. It will see the introduction of new public transport infrastructure, an ultra-low emissions zone for cars that travel there and a huge scaling up of consolidation of cargo vehicles which transport goods for export.

Fuel technology and the movement towards electric and hybrid engines in aircraft will be a game changer for the industry, jobs and the environment. If there was any doubt that this was possible, just look to Norway, where there are already plans for an all-electric domestic fleet by 2040. So, as well as being the lever to create up to 180,000 new jobs, with the help of the UK’s planning regime Heathrow can be at the centre of global innovation as it expands.

There are big issues globally that need to be dealt with. It’s worth considering that in the United States the busiest airlines represent nearly a fifth of total global air traffic with 632 million passengers or 18.6% of the total. China is second with 555 million passengers, whilst the UK represents just 4.3% of the total. Countries like China are meeting this huge demand by building 234 airports in the next 15 years. Asia is experiencing tremendous growth with new low-cost carriers putting travel within reach of burgeoning middle-class populations.

We can’t stop China, India and Malaysia from building their new airports. Draconian measures targeted at UK level, which accounts for just 1% of global carbon emissions, won’t make a difference to this global problem.  But our experience, knowledge, and intelligent solutions can be our gift to the wider world. Exporting low carbon technology solutions to Beijing, Delhi and Jakarta and beyond isn’t just an opportunity, it’s our responsibility. 

There’s an important choice ahead for the winners of the general election. They can either talk up the tension between jobs and the environment or they can innovate, and build the much-needed new infrastructure at Heathrow, developing it in a way that sets the bar for the rest of the world and helps reduce carbon emissions globally. 


Parmjit Dhanda is a former Labour Government Minister and Executive Director of the Back Heathrow Campaign.