Polling reveals that nearly two thirds of Britons are concerned about the climate impact of Heathrow expansion

“Heathrow’s third runway project is fuelled by government climate hypocrisy. It would be an emissions disaster and doesn’t even have the public backing that the planners like to assume it has. "
  Published:  14 Oct 2019    |      3 minute read

64% of people, after being told the potential benefits and negatives*, are concerned about the climate impact of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport according to polling released by Friends of the Earth today (14 October). The same survey found that only 1 in 4 people support the plans for a third runway.

A third runway at Heathrow Airport would put 700 more planes into the sky each day – 50% more than the airport currently sees. This would all but blow chances of the UK meeting its targets for cutting emissions and fighting climate breakdown.

Today’s polling comes as Friends of the Earth prepares to take its legal case against Heathrow’s third runway plans to the Court of Appeal on climate grounds. The court will hear an appeal against the High Court’s decision that the government had not breached its sustainable development duties by allowing the expansion of Heathrow. The hearing begins on Thursday 17 October and is expected to last six days.

Jenny Bates, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Heathrow’s third runway project is fuelled by government climate hypocrisy. It would be an emissions disaster and doesn’t even have the public backing that the planners like to assume it has. Public opinion is emphatically demanding those in power take the climate crisis seriously. This means cutting down the number of planes in our skies, not giving them a massive daily boost.”

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

“We simply cannot allow the expansion of high carbon infrastructure projects like the third runway at Heathrow at a time of climate crisis. Expanding Heathrow will not only benefit a minority of people, while leaving us all to suffer the awful impact on the environment, but it will increase emissions and contribute to climate breakdown. The government has admitted that it did not consider the Paris agreement when agreeing to Heathrow expansion - we hope the court of appeal will now agree with us that this is not sustainable development and ignores the needs of future generations.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

“It is clear that the damaging climate change impacts of a third runway will long outlive the 2050 net zero target. The results of this survey confirm the public’s concern that such state of affairs is manifestly unsustainable. We will be putting forward these arguments to challenge the expansion of Heathrow on climate change grounds on behalf of Friends of the Earth at our upcoming Court of Appeal hearing beginning next week.”

*The survey asked people about their level of concern, and whether they support or oppose the expansion, after respondents were shown the following text:

There are currently plans for a third runway to be built at Heathrow Airport. The additional runway would put 700 more planes into the sky each day- 50% more than the airport currently does. It has been suggested that this will bring certain benefits by creating new jobs and domestic flight routes, but it will also contribute to climate change and negatively impact those living around Heathrow Airport.”

Notes

  1. Survey data from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,017 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 6th October 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  2. The High Court ruled on 1 May 2019 that the government’s decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport was lawful. This followed legal challenges brought by a number of environmental NGOs, pressure groups and local councils which were heard collectively by the court in March 2019.
  3. Environmental group Friends of the Earth, represented by law firm Leigh Day, brought one of the legal challenges, focusing on the climate change impact of a third runway. They argued that the government’s decision to allow expansion was unlawful as it failed to explain how such expansion fitted with the UK’s climate change policy.
  4. Friends of the Earth also claimed that the decision breached the Department for Transport’s sustainable development duties in failing to have regard to the desirability of mitigating climate change for future generations. This was specifically due to: not considering the UN’s Paris Agreement, the lack of any climate policy beyond the 2050 target under the Climate Change Act, and the failure to factor in any impact from the non-CO2 contribution of aviation to climate breakdown.
  5. Watch a live stream of the hearing here