Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A flight to folly

We face a climate emergency. Parliament has said so. This view is backed by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, organised by the IPCC, by the Committee on Climate Change and by innumerable economists. And it’s been confirmed this month by floods in Yorkshire and wildfires in Australia and California.
To end this global emergency every country must reduce its carbon emissions – which come mainly from burning fossil fuels. As a matter of simple justice that obligation must fall most heavily on the countries that have made the greatest historical contribution to climate change and which are still most profligate in their use of them. That means us. Specifically it means local and national government.

How does Luton Council propose to meet this obligation? It proposes to make matters worse. The Luton Airport Expansion Project 'SIFT 2' report (p60) says:
“… by far the most significant GHG emissions impact will be from aircraft cruise emissions i.e. emissions from aircraft over 3,000ft. As a result every option is judged to have a Large Adverse impact

In 2018 16.5 million passengers used Luton Airport. Carbon emissions were estimated as 2.2MtonsCO2e, that’s about half of one percent of all UK domestic emissions. To allow for the increased radiative forcing due to high-altitude emissions we should double that number. So one percent – just from one airport. 

LLAL now proposes to increase the capacity of the airport to at least 36 mppa (“in the region of 240,000 aircraft movements per year”). That’s a 118% increase. The carbon emissions are then expected to be 3.9 MtonsCO2e – again we need to double that. If that occurs in 2039 and if the UK meets its climate change obligations that will comprise c5% of UK domestic emissions – still from just one airport.

It’s morally outrageous. 

It’s also economic nonsense. Luton Council and Airport are assuming that flying will continue to grow for many years into the future. But this ignores:

  • The increasing effects of climate change.
  • The growing realisation, by politicians and the public, that the climate emergency is a major threat. When Nigel Farrage AND Jeremy Clarkson both express climate concern in a single week we can see that something has changed
  • More specifically the acknowledgement by the Committee on Climate Change that aviation growth has to be restrained. 

 A simple extrapolation suggests that our government will, however reluctantly, take steps to restrain that growth. It may not be next year or even by 2024 but it will come. And where will the Airport's  business case be then?

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