28th February 2022


Aircraft emissions are amongst the fastest growing causes of global warming and yet the Government continues to support airport expansion projects all across the UK.

It is now clear that the approval of the Stansted Airport Planning application last year has set a dangerous precedent.  Airports all across the UK are now jumping on the bandwagon.  In the past 12 months, Bristol, Southampton and Leeds Bradford airports have all received the go-ahead for major expansion.  In addition, Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports are all now bringing forward expansion proposals – each of which would increase their capacity by 50% [Note 1].

All these projects have Government support – flying in the face of it’s so called ‘net zero’ policy for aircraft emissions.  Despite the obvious contradiction, the courts have shown a marked reluctance to intervene.

Taken together, the airport expansion proposals that have been approved in the past year, and those in the pipeline, will increase UK airport capacity to over 500 million passengers per annum.

This compares to 297 million passengers handled in 2019, before the Covid pandemic.

In December 2020, the Climate Change Committee recommended that there should be a total freeze on UK airport expansion until such time as the aviation industry could demonstrate that it was on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.  However, the Government has decided to completely ignore this advice from its own independent experts.

Covid has dramatically reduced the demand for air travel in the past two years, but airlines expect a return to business as usual by 2024 or 2025 at the latest.  If that is the case, and with so much extra airport capacity in the pipeline, there will be no prospect of aviation achieving the Government’s objective of net zero emissions by 2050.  Instead, aviation could well be the largest single contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions. [Note 2]

Stansted Airport Watch Climate Change Adviser Mike Young, commented: “It’s as if the Government is living in a parallel universe.  We can expand UK air travel to 500 million passengers a year or we can make a serious attempt to tackle climate change.  However, we cannot do both.”


  1. Details of the expansion plans for individual UK airports are available from the SAW Campaign Office upon request.
  2. See House of Commons Research Briefing “Aviation, decarbonisation and climate change”, September 2021, at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8826/


Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits