Heathrow’s Blocked Expansion: Can It Happen In Mumbai Or Singapore?

  • Date: 12/03/20
  • Tilak Doshi, Forbes

While London’s greenies cheer over stopping the expansion of Heathrow, Mumbai and Singapore are open for business while China and India proceed with their plans to build hundreds of new airports over the next several years. 

To the well-heeled tourist visiting London, the UK Court of Appeal’s decision last week to stop the expansion of Heathrow airport will mean more hassle flying into an already “overcrowded and expensive” airport or having to fly to Luton or Gatwick instead. But is the Court’s decision – the first legal ruling in the world to explicitly cite the Paris Agreement as the basis to reject a government-approved development plan – likely to worry  Asian government planners?

On the face of it, the answer is clearly “no”. The Paris climate change agreement does not bind any nation beyond voluntary “intended nationally-determined contributions” and good-faith efforts to “increasing” such INDCs in future rounds of negotiations. In the mainstream media, the Paris agreement was widely hailed as the “first truly global climate deal”, committing both rich and poor countries to controlling rising emissions blamed for global warming. Yet the level of commitment determined by each country is an open question, to say the least.

Each submission by the current 189 signatories to the agreement is at the discretion of the individual country with no objective standards that it must meet; the “contributions” themselves are not binding as a matter of international law and there are no agreed and independently-audited systems of measurement, reporting and verification (“MRV”). Commentators have called the accord a process of “name and shame” but one doubts whether such a process can be a strong motivator of sovereign state behaviour in many cases.

China, the world’s largest emitter by far, has committed to reaching peak emissions “around 2030” but offered no commitment regarding the level of that peak or the subsequent rate of emission decline. Early models of China’s “business-as-usual” (BAU) trajectories by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory had already concluded that emissions would peak around then anyway. Bloomberg New Energy Finance found Chinese commitments with respect to emissions intensity actually less ambitious than BAU.  It also observed that India’s submitted INDCs were underperforming a policy of doing nothing at all. India, the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the US, offered no commitment with respect to its expected emissions peak. A domestic think-tank claimed that India’s BAU emission profile did not appreciably differ from its INDC submission.

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