Take action to prevent expansion at Leeds Bradford airport - deadline 11 August
UPDATE: The local authority has extended the deadline (again!) - now 11 August
(You need to register first, but there's no need to comment in great detail - one or two sentences are fine.)
Despite the aviation industry's current crisis, the climate-wrecking ambition of long-term expansion at regional airports across the UK has not gone away. The latest is Leeds Bradford Airport which wants to increase passenger numbers from 4 million per year now to 7.1 million by 2030 and up to 9 million by 2050.
Whether you live in the local area or not, you can object to their planning application (you will need to register first). Earlier this year, North Somerset Council faced a strong local campaign against Bristol Airport expansion, supported by over 8000 objections to the application and finally rejected the proposal.
This is in no way compatible with the government's commitment to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Even less so with the more urgent reductions that we actually need to take in a climate emergency.
Leeds City Council themselves declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019, aiming to work towards making Leeds climate neutral by 2030. The contrast between this ambition and airport expansion plans is extraordinary.
Airport's emissions set to overtake those of the whole city of Leeds
The airport claim in their planning application that their total operational emissions by 2030 would be around 491 kilotonnes CO2. This is actually misleading as it doesn't include aviation's non-CO2 impacts. These impacts (of releasing gases at altitude) can effectively double aviation's warming impact on our climate. Unsurprisingly, the airport recommends that the council should ignore this significant extra damage to our climate in their decision-making.
However... earlier this year, the Airports National Policy Statement (the legal basis for Heathrow expansion) was overturned in the Court of Appeal because it did not take account of our commitments under the Paris Climate Chage Agreement. The court also explicitly ruled that the government should have taken into account the non-CO2 impacts caused by airport expansion.
Local authorities such as Leeds City Council would be well advised to consider this Court of Appeal judgement carefully. Rather than being distracted by comparatively insignificant energy efficiency improvements to the terminal building, they should take into account both carbon emissions and non-CO2 impacts of flights.
They should also be extremely sceptical of the aviation industry's claim that reducing emissions can best be done on an international level. In practice this means relying on highly flawed offsetting schemes and dubious promises of technological improvements. In reality demand reduction is the only truly effective method of reducing aviation emissions.
Using a (perhaps conservative, but frequently used) estimate of non-CO2 impacts multiplying the climate impact of flights by 1.9 increases the climate impact of the airport to 590kT CO2 equivalent now and 898kT CO2 equivalent by 2030.
But by 2035, Leeds' carbon roadmap towards being carbon neutral in 2050 projects the city's total emissions being less than a third of this figure. And let's not forget, the aspiration was to work towards carbon neutrality in 2030.
Will councillors act as leaders on climate or wash their hands of responsibility?
The city of Leeds set up a Citizen's Jury on climate change with the task of producing recommendations on how to achieve the city's climate goals. One of these recommendations was to halt the airport expansion. The council's response was described by one academic as 'a masterclass in Climate Delay'. They argued that Leeds Bradford airport is only a tiny part of the UK's aviation emissions. But because our national government refuse to take responsibility for managing aviation emissions at a national level, every local decision maker can make this argument, enabling aviation expansion across the country and a massive increase in emssions.
Another argument has been made that if Leeds Bradford airport doesn't expand, passengers will fly from Manchester airport instead - as if somehow expansion at one airport reduces flights at another. We need to stop expansion at both Leeds Bradford and Manchester. It is simply not acceptable to be building infrastructure to increase carbon emissions when we desperately need to reduce emissions as fast as possible to avoid catastrophic climate change.