You might expect me to be pleased at the recent Appeal Court ruling that the government had wrongly given Heathrow’s third runway the go ahead, given that I never believed it made economic or environmental sense.
This is clearly bad news for Heathrow and the environmental lobby were ecstatic. However, their first response was to announce that they will now be challenging Highways England’s £14bn road building programme and I doubt they will stop there.
There is a strong hint of anti-capitalist sentiment in the environmental lobby and many regard construction itself – not only of homes but offices, power stations and even rail expansion – as contrary to the government’s stated aim of being net carbon neutral by 2050. This ruling sets a very dangerous precedent and I for one will not cry if the Supreme Court overturns it.
If we have learned anything in recent years, not only here in UK but across the world, it is that our planet is getting warmer. This used to be a matter for debate but is no longer even arguable. It is a patent fact. And frankly, whether mankind has been responsible for 5% or 95% of the warming, our overriding priority must be to stop that temperature rise in any way we can and mitigate its impact as much as humanly possible.
There are those who rightly point out that Greta Thunberg would perhaps be better advised to turn her attention from Europe to the really gross polluters. She has called out Donald Trump, but India and China are responsible for a far greater percentage of global carbon and methane emissions.
However, even though the UK is apparently responsible for only 1% of total emissions, we are much less than 1% of the world’s population, so we do still have a way to go.
The challenge for our lawmakers is to ensure that we do everything we can to reduce our emissions even further, but at the same time protect development that in the long term makes us a lesser polluter.
Heathrow’s extra runway may well fail in any event. Knocking down a thousand homes and lowering the M25 by eight metres – while keeping it running and arguing that the extra surface traffic won’t worsen air quality – are all reason enough to call a halt to the project.
On top of which, it then has to get round the government’s dictum that landing charges – already among, if not the most, expensive in the world – must not be raised. So following Brexit, the UK and London need to find the extra connectivity at Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester, while places such as Glasgow and Doncaster all have huge potential to take more point-to-point traffic.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, despite the odds still Leader of the House, used to boast tongue firmly in cheek that he was enormously environmentally friendly by driving around in an old Bentley that probably did little more than 12 miles to the gallon. He was relying of course on the notion that the energy consumed (and therefore the amount of carbon emitted) in making a new car is greater than the energy he consumes driving an old one.
He was highlighting an issue we do have to grasp. We need better connectivity by air, road and rail. We need more efficient homes and places of work. We need more clean energy to replace the gross polluters. And much of this will potentially delay our achieving the undoubtedly worthwhile target of net zero by 2050.
Perhaps the answer is for ministers to spend less time signing up to aspirational targets and more time working out how we can deliver a long-term, common sense sustainable future that works for all of us.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land.