The Sleeping Poodle

It is the role of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to monitor overall progress against carbon budgets and the 2050 target. It is the nation’s watchdog to confirm that the UK meets its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act. ‘Watchdog’ is, however, a generous metaphor. A sleeping, toothless poodle would be more appropriate. The CCC was sidelined when Howard Davies, the bungling former head of the Financial Services Authority, produced his report recommending Heathrow expansion (see earlier comment). The CCC continued to doze while the government accepted Mr Davies’s recommendation, believing itself to be inhibited from examining “specific projects”, including even Heathrow expansion. It has, however, finally woken up to the fact that the Heathrow expansion is incompatible with the 2050 target. It has now belatedly called on the government to “publish a strategic policy framework for UK aviation emissions”. More of a whimper than a snarl!

The CCC refers to the need for the government to address “strategic options and innovation priorities to pursue deeper cuts in aviation emissions” but they must know that no such options or innovations exist other than restricting demand for flying. As David MacKay demonstrated in   Chapter 5 of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air , after 100 years of aviation development, the theoretical efficiency limits for hydro-carbon based aviation are being approached. There are, essentially, no more efficiency savings to be secured. If the CCC doesn’t understand this, it’s time they stood down.

Capitalists don’t, of course, like interfering in any market capable of generating huge profits. They are also not very keen on restricting the “freedom of choice” of the rich and powerful – the people responsible for the great majority of flights. On the whole, they come clean about such motives. They are less transparent when it comes to their willingness to tolerate a large proportion of the world’s population being exterminated by global warming so that the super-rich can survive and thrive. When this is appreciated, so is the understanding that halting global warming and replacing capitalism with communism are synonymous.

Heathrow – an irrational decision

The UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), which the governments of the world, including ours, signed up to in December, requires net zero emissions by the second half of this century for the target ceiling for global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade to be met. It means that by 2050 the UK government has to cut its carbon emissions by 90 percent.

Project yourself forward to 2050. If the new runway at Heathrow goes ahead, aviation will (on current projections) account for 50% of our carbon emissions by 2050. How will you or your children feel about living in a country where the availability of gas and oil to heat your home is a tenth of the current level, where electricity is available for only a few hours a day unless it is expensively provided by nuclear power plants for which there are no credible plans to store safely the radioactive waste for thousands of years? Will this situation be tolerable when 50% of the available hydrocarbons are being guzzled by an affluent 1% taking multiple leisure flights every year?

Clearly, even disregarding the adverse environmental effects on the inhabitants of West London, the plan to expand Heathrow is irrational. This should leave it vulnerable to judicial review. This route will be explored, and we wish those who pursue it well, but the CP has little confidence in our judges to decide such matters. However unconsciously, they reflect the interests of the class from which they are drawn and whose ideas they have imbibed. As has been demonstrated time and time again, the rights of capital and property always prevail over the rights of workers.

As we commented on 12 December when COP 21 was announced, a low carbon future is both essential and attainable, but whether it can be delivered without dismantling capitalism first is quite another matter


Sir Howard Davies’ long-awaited report from the Airports Commission was finally published last week. Predictably, he delivered what Big Business wanted: a recommendation to build a new runway, ideally at Heathrow, and silence on the impact it would have on the UK’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. Howard Davies is, however, an expert at looking the other way when needed. He was the founding Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, luckily standing down sufficiently prior to the financial crash in 2006-7 to escape the criticism heaped on the head of his hapless successor. No matter – he had delivered for his political masters the ‘light touch’ self regulatory regime they wanted. How could he be blamed that it was totally unfit for purpose? His subsequent career as Director of the LSE did come unstuck following its acceptance of money from Gaddafi  – looking the wrong way again but this time a self-confessed “error of judgment”. Just the man then the government needed as Chairman of the Airports Commission!

As Greenpeace commented, the topic of carbon emissions is largely absent from Howard Davies’ report. Where it is addressed, it is with calls for marginal improvements such as increasing airport charges for older aircraft and mandating “green slots” under which less polluting aircraft take up the new capacity. No doubt aware of this deficiency, Davies wrote to Lord Deben of the Climate Change Committee when the report was published, pointing to the need for “a more significant package of measures” than appeared in his report. His ideas for these? A huge increase in the carbon price, which would presumably obviate the need for a new runway in the first place, and the pipe dream of bio fuels to replace aviation oil. It cannot be produced without reducing food production and starving the poorITS .

Frequent flyers are predominately drawn from the wealthiest 10% of the population. 15% of the British population who flew three or more times last year accounted for 70% of all flights. More than half the UK population took no flights at all. We don’t need a new runway – we need the wealthy to fly less frequently. Building more runways at Heathrow or Gatwick is not the way to go about this.