Another airport plans expansion - respond to Bristol consultation by 26 Jan!


With the legal challenge to Heathrow's third runway still ongoing, and Gatwick wanting to expand its operations by stealth, other airports are also eyeing up increased profits without regard to climate damage.

The latest is Bristol.

Bristol airport currently has 8 million passengers a year. It is already planning to increase to 10 million and the current planning application is aiming to increase further, to 12 million by 2026. Although not part of the current application they are clear that eventually, they would like to increase to 20 million passengers every year.

By increasing from 8 to 12 million passengers, the figures they have submitted show the airport's 'operational emissions' increasing by two-thirds, from 945ktCO2/year in 2017 to 1,568ktCO2/year in 2026.

Extraordinarily, this is more than the total CO2 emitted from all other transport, homes, and industry in North Somerset local authority in 2016 (1,211ktCO2) and almost as much as the 1,633kt from the City of Bristol (source).

However, the Environmental Statement for the planning application describes these emissions as 'not significant'. 

The deadline to ask the council to reject planning permission for expansion is Saturday 26 January.

If you sign the 38 Degrees petition, it then takes you automatically to a link to submit an objection to the planning application. You can also comment here (search for 18/P/5118/OUT, then click 'Make a Comment').

There is more information below on the climate impacts of aviation expansion, but there is no need to go into great detail in your objection - do use your own words if you possibly can! In particular if you have friends or family who live in North Somerset, please encourage them to comment, and email local councillors - details on the Bristol Airport Watch website. Responses from local community groups, charities or businesses, (a local farm, pub, toddler group, children's charity or church) can be particularly influential.

Climate emergency

North Somerset Council has committed to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2035 compared to 2014. This fits with the UK's Climate Change Act which aims to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.

Bristol Council, however, recently set a more ambitious target of going zero carbon by 2030. This followed the IPCC's report in October 2018 which summarised expected impacts at 1.5C and 2C warming - and concluded that we have a huge problem if we go above 1.5C, with rapid emissions cuts needed. The UK Committee on Climate Change is reassessing our current national targets to see how we can bring them in line with the Paris climate agreement's goal of keeping emissions to 1.5C (or 'well below 2C').

Given this, how come the plan is to massively increase CO2 from aviation?

The problem with aviation emissions

International aviation has been getting a free ride on climate change. Because of disagreements on how emissions should be allocated to countries, it has been omitted from national carbon budgets. The Committee on Climate Change has sensibly adopted a working assumption of reducing the UK's overall budget to leave headroom for aviation emissions, and recommended these should be capped to no more than 37.5MtCO2 by 2050. (This all relates to the existing Climate Act targets - as explained above, these need to be cut to be compatible with 1.5C.)

As stated in the Environmental Statement for the Bristol airport planning application "There is uncertainty regarding UK GHG policy in the aviation sector." In other words, the government has effectively abandoned the 37.5Mt cap, giving the go ahead to expansion at Heathrow, which would make it impossible. Meanwhile, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Luton and other airports have plan to expand.

The cover for all this is that aviation emissions will be dealt with by the aviation industry's new carbon offsetting scheme, CORSIA. Unfortunately, CORSIA is a mess. It started off with huge loopholes and was then weakened even further by dropping sustainability criteria for biofuels and announcing that even fossil fuels could count as green. 

Even if CORSIA were strengthened somehow, a fundamental problem is that offsetting can only work while global emissions are reasonably high and so there are lots of opportunities to make carbon savings on top of countries' existing commitments. But if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change then carbon budgets will be tightened everywhere. Where will the offsets come from?

An even bigger problem...

Flying not only emits CO2, but by emitting other gases and particles at altitude and forming contrails, there is an additional contribution to global warming that may be even more significant than the CO2 emitted. Because these 'non-CO2 effects' are variable and hard to calculate exactly, they are almost always ignored in planning and policy decisions, meaning that the climate impact of aviation is significantly underestimated. The government's own guidelines for company reporting of CO2 emissions suggests as an approximation, multiplying aviation emissions by 1.9. 

Bristol Airport's own figures break down aviation emissions into 'cruise' and 'landing and take off'. If the former were multiplied by 1.9, that would take the airport's current total annual emissions up to over 1,500ktCO2, rising to over 2,500ktCO2 in future - more than double the total CO2 from all other transport, homes, and industry in North Somerset. This cannot be claimed to be an exact figure, but it demonstrates the danger of policies which allow aviation to expand while seeking to cut emissions elsewhere.

Tell North Somerset Council to show climate leadership and refuse planning permission for expansion

Campaign against Climate Change full response (Word Doc)