U.K. Transportation Is a Mixed Bag: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It was a big day for transportation in the UK today, but is the region’s transportation getting greener? Buried in a long list of initiatives announced by the UK’s Department for Transport today was £250 million ($364.4 million) in funding to get more low-carbon vehicles on the road. The agency also plans to look at a possible high-speed rail link between London and Scotland. Good moves, right?

Sure, but it’s the approval of a controversial £8 billion expansion of Heathrow Airport that could have a substantial, and negative, impact on the environment. The Transport folks plan to add a third runway and a sixth terminal, which could eventually lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. There have already been numerous protests against the expansion, which will add about 400 flights per day at the airport, already one of the busiest in the world, and eventually boost the total number of annual flights to 702,000, up from 480,000.

Opponents, including the country’s environment secretary and energy secretary, complained that building a new runway would go against the UK’s target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The transport agency did make some concessions, saying that the third runway will only operate at half its capacity when it first opens, and that aircraft using the new runway will have to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions standards, meaning older aircraft will have to stick to the old runways.

The agency also said that total CO2 emissions from UK aviation must drop below 2005 levels by 2050, but the third runway is set to open in 2020, so any potential environmental damage will have already been done.

As for the low-carbon vehicle funding, the transport agency gave few details, saying only that the cash would be used for consumer incentives and infrastructure development. It’s not clear if infrastructure means charging stations for electric cars, or pumping stations for ethanol, or even a network of hydrogen filling stations. Information on the program won’t be released until later this year.