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AEF December Newsletter: Time to stop airport expansion

23rd December, 2020

Stop airport expansions to help reach 2050 net zero goal, say government climate advisors

There should be no net increase in the UK’s airport capacity if emissions from flying are to be cut to net zero by 2050, unless the industry outperforms expected progress on technology and cleaner fuels, the Committee on Climate Change said in its advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget. Any expansion would need to be matched by ‘restrictions’ elsewhere, they have advised. This is the CCC’s strongest position to date on the issue of capacity… read more

AEF sums up the CCC’s key recommendations here, including the welcome reiteration of the need to include emissions from international aviation in the UK’s carbon budgets.

Last week, the Supreme Court overturned the decision earlier this year by the Appeal Court to block Heathrow expansion on climate change grounds. Of course, the CCC’s advice now represents a new hurdle for the project to overcome. Read AEF’s statement here and expect to see the third runway plans contested at various future stages if Heathrow goes ahead with a Development Consent Order application. 

Airport expansions continue to face environmental scrutiny

Given the CCC’s advice on airport capacity, it’s encouraging to see airport expansion plans across the UK increasingly coming up against environmental scrutiny. 

In July, the Government gave Manston Airport in Kent permission to open as a freight hub. This went against the advice of the Examining Authority, which had, amongst its conclusions, stated that the proposal would negatively impact the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. An application to judicially review the decision had been successfully lodged, but the Government has since announced it will not be contesting the JR, accepting that it had not provided sufficient reason for overturning the Examining Authority’s recommendations.

Bristol Council meanwhile has passed a motion opposing Bristol Airport expansion on the grounds it is “incompatible with carbon reduction targets” further bolstering the support for no further airport expansion in a time of climate emergency, and in order to meet net zero goals. The airport will however be appealing North Somerset District Council’s decision earlier this year to refuse its application to expand.

Click here to see our full guide to current and planned expansions across the UK.

Community groups write to government calling for end to night flights

While air passenger numbers have dropped dramatically during the pandemic, the reduction in air freight has been much smaller, and some of our members have noted a marked change in the number of night flights they are experiencing as retailers cater to online shoppers. Growing evidence shows a link between night noise from aviation and adverse effects on sleep and health. In November community groups, the Aviation Communities Forum and AEF wrote to Government calling for an end to night flights at UK airports…read more

In December, the Government launched a consultation on night flight restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports between 2022 and 2024, and on future night flight policy for all UK airports. Whilst the consultation proposes continuing with limits, rather than a ban to night flights, this is a good opportunity to let Government know your thoughts. The closing date is 3rd March 2021. You can respond to the consultation here.

We can’t rely on tech alone, AEF deputy director Cait Hewitt tells BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth

Zero carbon technology doesn’t exist at scale today, explained AEF’s Cait Hewitt on an episode of BBC Radio 4 Costing the Earth that focused on the future of aviation. She went on to detail the kind of climate change mitigation that is needed now in order for the industry to work towards net zero by 2050, including effective industry regulation and policies focused on aviation demand. Listen here.

In other news

New EU study of non-CO2 impacts of aviation confirms scientific findings earlier this year that airline contrails warm the planet twice as much as CO2… read more
One percent of people cause half of global aviation emissions, study finds. This one percent takes an average of 12 short haul or three long haul flights a year, or a combination of the two… read more
As talk of the need to cut aviation demand heightens, it is encouraging to see a shift in public attitudes, with many saying they intend to fly less in future. This YouGov poll has found 20% of Britons intend to fly less and a third are looking to use trains more… read more

In order to reach net zero by 2050, we need to limit aviation demand. Think you could commit to a year without flying? Sign up to Flight Free’s 2021 pledge today. 
‘It doesn’t matter how beautiful and low carbon an airport is if the aircraft using it are burning fossil fuels’, says AEF’s director Tim Johnson on UK architectural firm Foster and Partners’ decision to withdraw from its industry’s climate pledge, following dispute over its involvement in new airport designs… read more

What’s coming up?

Wednesday 23rd  December: Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) consultation on Public Safety Zones closes.
6th January 2021: North Somerset consultation (on additional information submitted by Bristol Airport for its appeal against council decision to refuse its expansion) closes 
3rd March 2021: Government night flight consultation closes 

What a year 2020 been! With many opting for a ‘staycation’ this year due to the pandemic, it has pushed conversations around travelling closer to home, and taking trips that avoid flying. Video calls have replaced a lot of in-person contact, and many analysts are predicting business travel may never return to pre-pandemic levels. Changes in behaviour may see less demand for flying after the pandemic.  

Despite the arrival of COVID-19, the issue of climate change has remained firmly on the agenda. Government has created its Jet Zero Council, which AEF has stressed must not be a substitute for effective climate policy for the aviation sector. We will continue to push for better regulation of the aviation industry, including the inclusion of international aviation in UK net zero targets, and of course no airport expansion (ahem, Heathrow).

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