‘Disastrous decisions’ such as Heathrow expansion and rejection of Swansea tidal lagoon spark concern over government direction
— Environmental campaigners and clean air groups have warned that the government’s green credentials are in tatters after a flurry of “disastrous decisions” that they say will be condemned by future generations.
The government’s plan to expand Heathrow won overwhelming backing in the Commons on Monday – with more than 100 Labour MPs joining the majority of Tory politicians to back the plan – despite grave concerns about its impact on air pollution and the UK’s carbon emissions.
On the same day, the government rejected plans for a £1.3bn tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, dashing industry hopes of Britain leading development of a new source of renewable energy.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party said it had been a day “of government-induced environmental disaster”.
“First they plough ahead with Heathrow expansion, and now they put a nail in the coffin of the tidal lagoon. They really have taken a wrecking ball to the UK’s climate policies.”
The growing concern around the government’s environmental strategy was highlighted by two new developments on Tuesday. Firstly, a coalition of clean air campaigners, green transport groups and environmentalists – including WWF and Greenpeace – has warned that “repeated delays” in the publication of the government’s strategy for sustainable road transport risks undermining the UK’s electric car industry and entrenching dangerous levels of air pollution for decades to come.
In a letter to the prime minister, Theresa May, they said reports the government was planning to water down a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 would “seriously weaken the UK’s hopes of leading the race towards cleaner transport”. And it urged May to bring forward the 2040 ban on new diesel and petrol car sales by 2030.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said May’s environment policies were “in tatters” after Heathrow and Swansea and warned further backtracking on its flagship transport strategy would “cement her government’s failure to fulfil its pledge to be a global leader on climate action”.
Separately, campaigners have condemned what they say is a watering down of a key element of the government’s climate change strategy, which will mean councils no longer have to assess planning proposals “in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008” but will instead only have to have reference to the “context” of the act. Legal advice sought by Friends of the Earth concludes this change “weakens the emphasis to be placed on climate change”.
Dave Timms, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said it sent a negative signal to councils about the importance of climate change in the decision-making process.
“The devil’s always in the detail, and by weakening the importance of the Climate Change Act in council decision-making, the government is hiding bad news in the fine print.”
The government says the new planning proposals are a draft and still being consulted on, and a spokesman rejected claims its environmental policies were in disarray.
“Our 25-year environment plan sets out our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. This includes ambitious plans to replenish depleted soils, rid the seas and oceans of plastic waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants and develop cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.”
The government’s plans to build a new runway at Heathrow passed through the Commons by 415 votes to 119 – a majority of 296 – on Monday night. It won the backing of the overwhelming number of Tory MPs as well as more than 100 Labour politicians.
Environmentalists expressed anger and dismay at what they said was the overwhelming lack of engagement with the scale of the looming climate crisis by most Westminster politicians.
A spokesman for the No Heathrow Group, which staged a series of direct action campaigns and organised a hunger strike in opposition to the proposals, said the politicians had failed on the “defining existential issue of our time”.
It said a third runway was “a declaration that the lives of those ‘others’ around the world already suffering from the worst impacts of climate change, and the thousands displaced to build the runway, are worth less than the luxuries of the minority of wealthy frequent flyers who stand to benefit most from a third runway.”
There is already a legal challenge to the Heathrow plans being prepared by several councils and supported by the mayor of London. Campaigners vowed to continue their fight.
A spokesperson for No To Heathrow said: “We are going nowhere, the third runway will never be built, we will use all the disruptive, creative, and peaceful tactics at our disposal to prevent the construction of this extreme and devastating megaproject: Heathrow, expect us.”
by Matthew Taylor | The Guardian