Heathrow climate ruling’s pertinence to Otago debated [ODT, 05/03/20]

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult has dismissed it as not relevant to the district’s airport debate but Extinction Rebellion Queenstown Lakes spokeswoman Anna Simmonds has called it ‘‘a true victory’’.

It was the United Kingdom Court of Appeal’s decision last week to reject construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The court found the UK Government illegally neglected its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The New Zealand Government signed and ratified the same agreement in 2016, and is committed to climate change rules concerning reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The New York Times reported the ruling was ‘‘among the first in the world to measure a state’s infrastructure plans specifically against its promises under the Paris Agreement’’.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council majority-owned Queenstown Airport Corporation has infrastructure plans which include developing Wanaka Airport for commercial aircraft.

Mr Boult said unlike the South Island, the UK and Europe had an ‘‘existing transport ecosystem’’ which included high-speed rail, comprehensive motorway networks, the ‘‘Chunnel’’ and ferries.

‘‘What we have seen in Europe is a repositioning of different modes.

‘‘New Zealand, and in particular the central South Island, is such a different scenario there is little point in comparing New Zealand to Heathrow.’’

Climate change and the effects of airport development were being assessed for the council, but Mr Boult believed attempting to ‘‘put the local situation in the same space as Heathrow is fanciful’’.

He noted the number of passenger movements through Heathrow was 81million per year; Queenstown Airport, in comparison, handled 2.3million annually.

‘‘Yes, the Paris Agreement is very important and it points to a bigger issue for New Zealand to confront here.

‘‘Our economy is heavily dependent on tourism — our largest earner of overseas funds.

‘‘We are also a destination located far away from most of our markets and so air travel, along with cruise ships, is an essential part of serving that industry.

‘‘We cannot simply — as in Europe — swap out for other transport methods.’’

Ms Simmonds said the UK decision ‘‘perfectly honours the commitment made by signing the Paris Agreement’’.

‘‘We are cautiously optimistic that our central and local government will now recognise the need to demonstrate the same level of integrity with their own commitments.’’

Ms Simmonds noted London Mayor Sadiq Khan ‘‘celebrated’’ the Heathrow decision saying a new runway would have serious consequences on climate change, air quality, noise pollution, road and rail networks and quality of life in London.

‘‘Unfortunately, all evidence points to [the Queenstown council] attitude to the environmental impacts of the Wanaka airport expansion as a feeble third place consideration after profit and growth.’’

Read this on the ODT website here.

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