LIVERPOOL, UK – Heathrow was a major presence at the Labour Party’s annual conference, held this week in Liverpool, where the theme was “A Fairer, Greener Britain”. The airport paid an unknown sum to host a “Heathrow Lounge” at the event.
Heathrow has been called the second most-polluting airport in the world. The airport is pushing ahead with plans for a third runway, even though experts warn that the expansion may lead to the release of several million additional tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Nonetheless, the venue featured messages about Heathrow becoming “a more sustainable airport” that is “playing our part” in cutting emissions.
Sponsoring such lounges is “prohibitively expensive for all but the largest of businesses,” and “affords unlimited access to MPs and other party members behind closed doors for the duration of the conference”, said Tim Johnson, the director of Aviation Environment Federation, a green transportation group.
“This ability to influence the discussion, and deny any alternative point of view, is completely inappropriate at a time when the aviation sector is looking for political support for airport expansion, and finance for alternative fuels,” he added.
A Heathrow spokesperson defended the airport’s presence at the conference. “It is absolutely right that Heathrow, alongside others in the sector, engages with political stakeholders to build knowledge, facilitate discussion and ultimately promote development of the policies that will cut aviation emissions”, the spokesperson told DeSmog.
Pointing to the UK aviation sector’s target of net zero by 2050, the spokesperson said that Heathrow believes new technology, including sustainable aviation fuels, are “part of a pathway to a future where the societal benefits of aviation can be secured without the carbon cost”.
Robert Barnstone, an activist with the group Stop Heathrow Expansion, criticised Labour for accepting the sponsorship. “I thought it was a little odd how the party takes such large sums of money from Heathrow given its theme this year in particular,” Barnstone told DeSmog.
“I know it doesn’t sit right with party members and some MPs that the party is so willing to take the money” given Heathrow’s “environmentally damaging” expansion plans, he added.
The Labour Party did not respond when contacted for comment.
The Heathrow spokesperson also defended the plans for a third runway, saying: “We believe that expanding Heathrow is critical for the UK’s future economic success. We have always been clear that it will only be delivered within strict environmental limits, and the Airports National Policy Statement which governs the project is also clear that the project cannot go ahead if these targets are not met.”
According to an AEF analysis seen by DeSmog, the increase in air traffic that would result from expansion would boost Heathrow’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from around 19.5 million tonnes pre-pandemic to more than 20 million tonnes by 2050,
The group says the Department for Transport estimates that without expansion, Heathrow’s yearly CO2 emissions would fall to 15.9 million tonnes in 2050, due to caps on the number of flights and more efficient planes.
The UK government’s independent climate advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has said no “net increase” in airport expansion should be allowed unless the industry “sufficiently outperforms” its current emission projections.
Heathrow will be sponsoring lounges at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham in early October, and at the Scottish National Party’s conference soon after. DeSmog recently reported that the Conservative Party received £651,000 from the aviation industry between April and June this year.