Climate campaigners bring protest to Heathrow

Last edited 25 February 2008 at 11:59am

'Hole in security not as big as hole in climate policy' as Greenpeace hangs huge banner off BA tailfin.

25 February, 2008

Climate campaigners climbed onto the top of a Manchester to London plane after it parked at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal One at 9.45am this morning. They are now covering the tailfin with a huge protest banner that reads "CLIMATE EMERGENCY – NO 3rd RUNWAY".

The Greenpeace volunteers – two women and two men – waited until all the passengers had disembarked from the one hour flight before walking through double doors at Terminal One, crossing an area of tarmac and climbing stairs onto the fuselage of the British Airways flight.

One of the protesters on the aeroplane is Anna Jones, 27, from Leeds. She said:

"I'm standing on this plane because our planet and the people who live on it are in danger. Climate change can be beaten, but not by almost doubling the size of the world’s biggest airport. The scientists say we only have a hundred months to get emissions down, so we’re here to draw a line in the sand and tell Gordon Brown his new runway must not and will not be built. I’ve never done a protest like this before, but people need to take a stand and tell the Prime Minister he can't ignore the science any longer."

The peaceful protest comes two days before the end of a much-derided government consultation into Heathrow expansion. Confidential Whitehall documents posted on the Greenpeace website reveal the process is fixed, with airport operator BAA writing parts of the consultation document (1).

The government wants to see a third runway and sixth terminal built over the villages of Sipson and Harmondsworth, increasing the number of flights from 480,000 a year to more than 700,000. A quarter of a million Londoners face increased levels of noise, while CO2 emissions from the airport would rise dramatically at a time when politicians claim to be tackling global warming. The protesters are urging Londoners to attend a huge public meeting at Methodist Hall in Westminster tonight where hundreds of local residents and environmentalists will join forces to call on the government to drop its controversial Heathrow plans.

Sarah Shoraka, 30, is another of the protesters on the fuselage. She said:

"We may have exposed a hole in security at Heathrow, but it’s not as big as the hole in Gordon Brown’s climate change policy. Why are climate-wrecking planes flying between Manchester and London when the train only takes two hours? The government should stop giving billions of pounds in tax breaks to aviation and instead use that money to make our trains cheaper and better. The push for a third runway is being fuelled by totally unnecessary flights like this one."

Greenpeace informed airport operator BAA of the protest just before the campaigners climbed onto the plane. They deliberately chose an incoming domestic flight from Manchester because there are 32 flights a day between London and Manchester, a journey which takes two hours by train. The most common destination out of Heathrow is Paris, which the Eurostar now serves in record time. In total 100,000 flights a year go between Heathrow and destinations within 500km of the airport which are easily reachable by train (2), while research shows that taking the train is up to ten times less damaging to the climate than flying (3).

Government and industry claims concerning the economic importance of Heathrow expansion have been grossly inflated, according to an academic study published last week (4). Greenpeace is calling for an end to all airport expansion and a cap on flights at present levels.

Aviation facts:

• The aviation industry often claims that aviation is only responsible for 2% of emissions. This figure applies only to CO2 emissions and refers to 1992 data (13). According to the European Federation for Transport and Environment, in the year 2000 air transport actually accounted for between 4% and 9% of the climate change impact of human activities (14).

• Unrestrained airport expansion will make it impossible for the UK to play its part in tackling climate change. Gordon Brown recently suggested that he may commit the UK to an 80% cut in Co2 emissions by 2050 (5). Research from the respected Tyndall Centre shows that if the industry is allowed to expand as predicted, aviation alone would destroy any hope of hitting this target (6).

• We don’t need to expand aviation in order to travel internationally. 100,000 flights a year go between Heathrow and cities within 500 kilometres of the airport - destinations easily reachable by train (2). Train travel is up to ten times less damaging to the climate than flying (3).

• The number one destination from Heathrow is Paris. The fourth most popular destination is Manchester - with 32 flights per day between London and the city. Transferring those 100,000 short haul flights from Heathrow to the rail network would take capacity back to 1990 levels, significantly reducing the airport’s Co2 emissions and largely negating the push for a third runway.

• Aviation currently receives £9bn per year in tax subsidies (7). This money could be spent on the rail network to help deliver a cheaper, reliable, and environmentally sound transport solution.

• The economic benefits of a third runway at Heathrow have been overstated, according to a new study released in February 2008 by consultants CE Delft. The report questions the validity of a study used by Ministers to assess the economic benefits of a third runway, showing that the official figures overestimate both the number of jobs the runway will generate and the value brought to Britain by extra business travelers. The Stern report on the economics of climate change estimates that a business-as-usual model will cost between 5 and 20% of global GDP (8).

• Small increases in the efficiency of planes will be overwhelmed by an unrestrained growth in flights. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution found that the industry’s targets are ‘clearly aspirations rather than projections’ (9). There are some basic technological restraints that make major improvements impossible to imagine. However, if the Government caps the total number of flights at current levels, these efficiency gains could have a positive impact in reducing the industry’s emissions.

• Aviation emissions do more damage to the climate because they are released at altitude. Scientists multiply aviation emissions by between 2 and 3 to calculate their increased climate impact – a phenomenon known as ‘radiative forcing’.

• Including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme will not solve the problem. According to a report from Ernst and Young, even in the toughest ETS scenario emissions from the aviation sector would grow by 83% by 2020 - as opposed to 86% without the ETS (10).

• Per person, Britons emit more from flying than any other people on the planet - 603kg per person per year, compared to 434kg for Irish and 275 kg for Americans (11). Aviation accounts for 13% of the country’s entire climate impact (12) – a figure that is growing.

• Greenpeace is calling for a moratorium on all airport expansion; a cap on flights at current levels, meaning any efficiency gains would have a positive impact by reducing overall emissions; and the billions channeled to aviation in tax breaks to instead be ploughed into the UK’s railway network, to increase capacity and make trains cheaper and more accessible, reducing demand for domestic and short-haul flights.

Greenpeace press office – 0207 865 8255

Video and stills available

Anna Jones is Cambridge politics graduate who has worked as a dance teacher for children, for Peace Brigades International and the World Development Movement. Her father is a doctor and her mother is an academic. Sarah Shoraka graduated in English Literature from UCL and worked at the LSE on a programme to provide university education to disadvantaged children. Her mother is a primary school teacher. The other two protesters are Paul Della Rocca from Yorkshire and Jens Loewe from London.


2. HACAN, (2006) Short-Haul Flights: Clogging up Heathrow’s Runways.

3. DfT estimate that short haul air craft emit 0.15 kg/CO2 per passenger Km. This multiplied by 2.7 (the IPCC’s best estimate for the impact of radiative forcing) equals 0.405. Dft estimates rail on average emits 0.004 kg/CO2 per passenger Km, approximately 10% of 0.405.

4. CE Delft (2008) The Economics of Heathrow Expansion 5. From text of Gordon Brown’s speech at WWF Febuary 2007 6. K, Anderson, A Bows, P, Upham (2006) Growth scenarios for EU & UK aviation: contradiction with climate policy, Page 42.

7. Sewill. (2003) The hidden cost of flying. AEF. The figure of £9 billion was confirmed by BAA consultants Volterrra, in November 2003. Since then, inflation and the increased number of passengers raised the figure to £10 billion but it was brought back to £9 billion by the rise in air passenger duty on the 1st of February 2007.


9. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 29th November 2002. The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight. Special Report

10. T&E background briefing (2007) Including Aviation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) page 2.

11. Green values: consumers and branding – TGI consultants 12. From Gillian Merron MP in answer to parliamentary question 26th April 2007 13. T&E background briefing (2007) Including Aviation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) page 2.

14. T&E background briefing (2007) Including Aviation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) page 2.

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