In that context, the Court of Appeal ruling that the government’s decision to allow a new third runway at Heathrow was unlawful will ultimately be more emblematic than effective when it comes to addressing climate change.
Around 70% of global transport emissions come from road vehicles not planes. But people flying across the world in big jet planes is a more vivid image than someone climbing into their car to do the school run. Of course, in terms of this issue it’s where we’re headed that’s important. Air travel is projected to increase substantially during the next two decades and it will not be a defence for that sector just to say that, in the great scheme of things, it is not the main offender.
From a communications strategy standpoint, the Heathrow expansion/climate change debate is a good example that when you’re mounting a campaign it’s sometimes wise to take aim at what will generate the most media coverage. As such, your initial campaign focus may not even lie at the heart of the matter, but it gives you the chance to widen the discussion and highlight a wider issue. And so it is with Heathrow and climate change.
Unfortunately, the court’s ruling has not simply provided a victory for the climate change lobby. It has also added to the perception of the UK as a country where we’re increasingly hopeless at instigating major infrastructure projects. Crossrail remains unopened, and if Boris Johnson hoped that greenlighting HS2 would rekindle national pride in grand projects it seems he will be badly disappointed.
Meanwhile, ‘infrastructure tsar’, Sir John Armitt, has urged the Government to seize a “golden moment of opportunity” and invest heavily to boost Britain’s growth. In that respect, there’s certainly no sign of take-off yet.