Campaigners from the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) are joining airport campaigners across the country to call for an immediate halt on all airport expansions and to warn against ‘techno-fix’ greenwashing. They are warning against attempts to greenwash flying with talk of ‘techno-fixes’. The campaigners say that new technologies and alternative fuels will take decades to be used on international flights, which cause the vast majority of aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Airport campaigners call for immediate halt to expansion plans
GALBA will join with airport campaigns across the country at 11.00am today to send a clear message: that all airport expansions should be stopped immediately. Simultaneous protests will be held against plans to expand 12 airports: Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick, Luton, London City, Southampton, Bristol, Doncaster Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds Bradford and Glasgow. The protests are part of the Global Day of Action, coinciding with the COP26 Conference in Glasgow.
Chris Foren, chair of GALBA, said:
“The government and the aviation industry claim that new technology means we can carry on flying as much as we like despite the climate crisis. It’s deeply irresponsible to spread these false claims. The experts on the Climate Change Committee (CCC) warn that such a ‘techno-centric’ approach has a high risk of failure.
“New aircraft designs and alternative fuels are decades away from making a dent in the huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by international flying. Just one return flight from the UK to New York emits as much greenhouse gas as the average British household does in a whole year.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has told us we need to halve our emissions by 2030 to reach net-zero by 2050. For decades, the aviation industry has promised that its techno-fixes will make everything alright. But that’s never happened and it’s not going to happen in the nine years we have left to stop climate breakdown.
“Maybe, one day, we’ll be able to fly in large, long haul, zero emission aircraft but we know that’s not an option in the foreseeable future. We simply have to stop expanding all airports – now.”
The government’s ‘techno-centric’ jet-zero strategy has been condemned by scientists from Leeds University for its refusal to follow advice from the government’s expert advisers on the CCC. The CCC has repeatedly warned that because there is no realistic prospect of international flying becoming zero carbon by 2050, the government needs to implement ‘demand control’ measures, including an immediate halt on all UK airport expansion plans.
Would airport expansions meet UK climate targets?
The CCC has advised the UK government to set a requirement “to reduce UK emissions by 78% by 2035, relative to 1990, a 63% reduction from 2019. This will be a world-leading commitment, placing the UK decisively on the path to Net Zero by 2050 at the latest, with a trajectory that is consistent with the Paris Agreement”.
It is noticeable that aviation emissions have not reduced significantly in the last 30 years and with COP26 currently being hosted this year by the UK, environmental action needs to match environmental rhetoric.
Professor Julia Steinberger, a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th and 6th assessment reports, told me:
“The government, whether it be local or national, cannot hide that under its obligations to the Paris Agreement, airport expansion is simply out of the question. The UK already has one of the highest-flying emissions per person in the world, due to a small fraction of extremely frequent flyers.
“Airport expansion simply caters to this minority with very little benefit to local populations. It’s time to rethink who our economies are for, and rethink our investment priorities towards low-carbon infrastructure which benefits the majority of UK residents.”
Is the UK government encouraging aviation emissions?
Cuts to the air passenger duty of 50 percent on domestic flights from 2023, in the budget published last week, will apply to all flights between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, excluding private jets. Chancellor Rishi Sunak commented in the autumn budget and spending review that:
“This will help cut the cost of living, with nine million passengers seeing their duty cut by half … It will bring people together across the UK … And because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers … it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Belfast, Inverness and Southampton.”
The chancellor claimed that, “We’re also making changes to reduce carbon emissions from aviation”. But there was no development of the mechanism as to how that would be done in light of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy.
In April 2021, the then secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, delayed the current plans for the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport “indefinitely”. These plans are now on the desk of the newly appointed Michael Gove. When the sound and fury of COP26 finally dies down, it will be critical for the UK to emerge as a country living up to the environmental standards that it wishes to impose on other countries.