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Heathrow (Third Runway) Opposition Day Debate

28 January 2009

(Click here to see the full debate)

I gave the following speech to the House of Commons during the debate on the expansion of Heathrow Airport.  An intervention I made earlier, during the speech of the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, is appended at the end.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), and I will support the motion in the Lobby tonight. I agree with him about the need for consensus across all the political parties if we are truly to tackle this major global issue of climate change. We came together not so long ago and passed the Climate Change Act 2008, and only two hon. Members voted against it. We imposed on ourselves strict targets that must be met by 2050, and as a result, the Government have been able to claim global leadership in tackling climate change.

It is one thing to have targets: it is another to achieve them. We achieved our Kyoto targets, but that was on the back of a temporary phenomenon—the dash for gas and the closure of coal-fired power stations. We are, even now, contemplating building a new coal-fired power station, and we are increasing our greenhouse gas emissions in this country, as are our partner countries in Europe. So when it comes to competition between Heathrow, Paris, Schiphol and Frankfurt, we are all in this together. We will all have to take difficult decisions about whether we can continue with the predict and provide policy in aviation.

We must also consider the science. When the Climate Change Act was first considered, we had a target of 60 per cent., but that was based on out-of-date science. We then realised that we needed an 80 per cent. target, based on the report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which is now some four years out of date. The latest science tells us that even that target may not be sufficient. It is not even the target that we need to consider, but our trajectory, and how we meet it. We cannot put action off. The latest science tells us that we are probably already at the tipping point. Predictions show that the melting of the Arctic ocean and ocean acidification, which were not expected to take place for another 50 or so years, are taking place now. The target that we must aim for if we are to reduce the increase in global temperature to the 2° C necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change is now more like 350 parts per million—and that is the level that we are at today.

We have to take urgent action. We cannot wait one or two years: we have to start now. We cannot look just for energy efficiencies and otherwise carry on as we are. We cannot look to some technological fix, as yet undiscovered. We have technologies that will enable us to tackle climate change, and we can be optimistic, but only if we start now. That means that all sectors of our economy have to participate. As the chief scientific adviser has said, the UK’s target means that all sectors must make a major contribution and achieve step changes in past performance. That applies to the aviation industry perhaps even more than to other emitters of greenhouse gas, because its emissions are made in the atmosphere and have a greater impact than those on the ground.

It is therefore inconceivable that we will meet our climate change targets with a target for aviation that says that we will not get back to 2005 levels of emission from the aviation sector until 2050. Even if that were achievable in the scenario painted by the Government, it is still not good enough. If we do not get it right, and if we do not take a lead in this country, as is absolutely necessary if we are to reach agreement at Copenhagen, that could have an impact on unemployment and on our economy. It will also have a global impact, through the water wars that will take place and the refugee problem. What happened in the early 1990s—with the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the consequences that followed for refugees seeking asylum, and the impact that that had here, as well as the impact that the wars in places such as Somalia and Darfur had here—will be as nothing compared with the impacts of dangerous climate change, which we are now embarking on.

If we are embarking on such change now, we cannot contemplate going ahead with a third runway at Heathrow airport. It is as simple as that. If this country wants to offer global leadership, it must not go ahead with the project, which makes a mockery of all our claims that we are serious about meeting the targets and tackling climate change.

We can tackle climate change—but what will happen if we do not? I sometimes wonder whether I did the right thing by bringing children into this world. I am from the luckiest generation. I was born in 1951, after the second world war. I had the benefit of the post-war welfare state: health care, free education and a good pension scheme from the public sector and from my current employment. When I look at our children, I see that they have a lot less opportunity and a lot less to look forward to than I had. If we are going to be true to our children, and to children all over the world, we must take climate change seriously. That means that we must not go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow.

My earlier intervention in the preceding debate

Intervention on the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport:

Mrs. Villiers: I believe very strongly that the economic arguments in favour of Heathrow expansion are not convincing, following detailed reflection on them.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Villiers: No, I will not.

Lynne Jones: I am trying to help.

Mrs. Villiers: All right, then.

Lynne Jones: Was it not Keynes who said “When the evidence changes, I change my mind”? I congratulate the hon. Lady on having had a change of heart on this issue. I am still unsympathetic towards her view that airport expansion is possible in the south-east, but I hope she may come to review that as well.

Mrs. Villiers: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the point that she has made.

Click here for more information on Heathrow Expansion



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