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17 May 2017

UK Government must not use international climate deal as a “smokescreen” to force through Heathrow expansion

WWF urges the next UK Government to come up with a credible climate plan for aviation – not just offsetting

LONDON: The next UK Government is being urged not to use an international climate deal as a “smokescreen” to pave the way for Heathrow Airport expansion.

The proposed new runway would make Heathrow the UK’s largest single source of greenhouse gases and increase emissions 15% over the limit advised by the Government’s independent expert advisers, the Committee on Climate Change.

It has been suggested that a global offsetting scheme agreed in Montreal last October – called CORSIA – will allow the Government to wash its hands of these emissions, but WWF’s new report Grounded explains ten problems with this approach. These include a weak target well short of the ambition of the Paris climate agreement and ignoring the non-CO2 pollution from aeroplanes, which doubles their overall global warming impact.

Commenting on the report, Paul Ekins OBE, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at University College London, said:

“While last year’s global agreement on aviation emissions is a step forward, there are still many unanswered questions about this international offsetting scheme. It is certainly no panacea for limiting the climate change impacts of airports expansion.

“The UK Government cannot wash its hands of Heathrow’s carbon emissions in the hope it can simply offset them. Ministers should come up with a credible plan for limiting UK aviation emissions before making any decisions about airports expansion.”

WWF actively supports the CORSIA negotiations and welcomes the progress made to date – but there are still too many problems and unknowns about CORSIA to expect it to deal effectively with the huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed new runway at Heathrow.

James Beard, Climate Change Specialist at WWF commented:

““Expanding Heathrow without a plan to deal with the huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions poses a very real threat to the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments.

“We are urging all climate change and airports campaigners to respond to the Heathrow consultation with a simple message: no new runway until you have a credible plan for dealing with the environmental impacts here in the UK – not just through offsetting.”

The Government’s consultation on the National Policy Statement for the new runway closes on 25 May.



Notes to the editor

  1. The full report can be found here:
  1. The agreement, between the 191 Member States of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), committed to introduce a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) from 2020. This means that, in theory, for every tonne of CO2 airlines emit above 2020 levels, they will have to buy a carbon credit representing a tonne of CO2 reduced elsewhere.

3.The report finds 10 problems with relying on offsetting to tackle aviation emissions:

  1. The ICAO CORSIA has a weak emissions target
  2. The CORSIA ignores half of aviation’s GHG emissions
  3. The CORSIA only exists on paper right now
  4. The CORSIA might allow dodgy offset credits
  5. The CORSIA might double-count countries’ carbon cuts
  6. The CORSIA is only seen as a “temporary gap filler”
  7. ICAO doesn’t want higher carbon prices for aviation
  8. UK airlines could get an easy ride under the CORSIA
  9. The Committee on Climate Change opposes offsetting
  10. Brexit complicates the EU Emissions Trading System too

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit for latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @wwf_uk.

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