5th August 2019

Climate Change: Deeds must now match words

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has strongly welcomed the resolution by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to declare a climate and ecological emergency and to commit to achieving net zero carbon status by 2030. The resolution was approved by an overwhelming majority of local councillors on 30 July 2019.
The challenge now is for the Council to convert words into deeds, and the biggest challenge of all is Stansted Airport’s insatiable appetite for expansion.

SSE Chairman Peter Sanders has called upon all UDC councillors to demonstrate their commitment to tackling climate change, saying as follows: “It is now time to convert words into actions. The Council’s declaration of a climate emergency would be a hollow gesture if it were now to approve the expansion of the airport to 43 million passengers per annum, almost equivalent to today’s Gatwick.”

Aviation is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change and Stansted Airport is the largest single source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the East of England. This year Stansted will produce an estimated 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 – which increases to the equivalent of 3.8 million tonnes when radiative forcing (RF) is taken into account. [Note 1]

If the current planning application for 43mppa were to be approved, Stansted would be responsible for the equivalent of 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, rising to the equivalent of 4.9 million tonnes when RF is included – the same amount as produced annually by around two million average family cars.

Concerns are growing about aviation’s increasing contribution to climate change, particularly at a time when other sectors of the economy are taking decisive steps to reduce their carbon footprint. [Note 2]

The aviation industry’s PR machine is doing its best to counter the negative publicity [Note 3] but there are increasing signs that politicians are losing patience with the industry’s disregard for the climate crisis.

The Tide is Turning

On 16th July Hertfordshire County Council (HCC), which has historically been a strong supporter of airport growth, declared a climate emergency, by a unanimous vote of the Council. This led to serious concerns being expressed regarding the proposed expansion of Luton Airport. Councillor Derrick Ashley, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Growth, Infrastructure, Planning and the Economy, commented as follows:

The county council has always taken the view that economic benefits of airports need to be balanced with the impact on the environment. I think the balance is now shifting more towards the environmental issues and away from strictly economic issues that I think were the priorities in the past. So I would agree that we do need to look now at how we view airport expansion – the impact on the ground, the impact relative to climate change and whether the environmental impact now takes a much higher priority than perceived economic benefits.” [emphasis added]

On 18th July eight Conservative MPs [Note 4] representing constituencies around Gatwick issued a public statement and wrote to the Secretary of State opposing further airport expansion, as follows:

At a time of increasing concern about the environmental impact of global aviation growth, the proposed expansion plans would see a marked increase in carbon emissions, with clearer environmental consequences for us all. We should not be looking at unchecked expansion at our local airports but seeking managed growth that is proportionate to our other national priorities.” [emphasis added]

Mr Sanders commented: “The need to tackle climate change is an urgent challenge which transcends politics and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything in our power to prevent a climate emergency becoming a climate disaster. Our local council now needs to rise to this historic challenge. We very much hope that on an issue as important as this for future generations, councillors will agree with SSE that reducing the adverse environmental impacts of aircraft carbon emissions is now a high priority matter and the right thing to do. History will remember those who fight for what they believe to be right long after it has forgotten those who gave way on such a vital issue.”

Finally, it is not only in the UK, where there is growing concern about aviation’s impact on climate change. Marseilles Airport has been forced to revisit expansion plans after France’s Environment Authority questioned how they can be reconciled with France’s net zero emissions target. The airport was judged to have underestimated the environmental impacts and overestimated the economic benefits of proposed facilities to handle up to 7.5 million extra passengers a year. In a ruling that could have implications for other airport projects, the authority cited the 2050 net zero emissions target adopted by France’s national parliament in June. It sent developers back to the drawing board, asking them to “demonstrate the compatibility of the project with France’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”.


Note 1: Radiative Forcing (RF) – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (‘IPCC’) recommended that aircraft CO2 emissions should be multiplied by between 2.0 and 4.0 (the RF factor) to reflect the greater climate impact of CO2 emissions at high altitude as well as the impact of emissions of other greenhouse gases from aircraft engines. More recent research indicates that the RF multiplier is more likely to be between 1.9 and 2.0, excluding the impact of aircraft contrails, for which no reliable scientific data are available. SSE has conservatively based its calculations on an RF factor of 1.9 and has applied this only to aircraft emissions and not to emissions from surface access travel or airport buildings. For further information see Stansted CO2 Emissions 2019

Note 2: The Climate Change Act 2008 was amended on 26th June 2019 to require UK greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 100% by 2050, compared to the previous target of an 80% reduction. The new ‘net zero’ target is now a legally binding commitment to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.

Note 3: In a masterful PR exercise the trade association ACI, which represents the European airport industry, recently announced that 194 European airports (including Stansted) have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. However, this only requires airport buildings and airfield vehicles to be carbon neutral. It ignores aircraft emissions, which account for over 90% of emissions arising from airport operations.

Note 4: Sir Paul Beresford MP, Crispin Blunt MP, The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Gillian Keegan MP, The Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP, Tom Tugendhat MP, The Rt Hon Anne Milton MP and Jeremy Quin MP.

• Peter Sanders, SSE Chairman, T 01799 520411; petersanders77@talktalk.net
• Brian Ross, SSE Deputy Chairman: 01279 814961; (M) 07850 937143 brian.ross@lineone.net
• SSE Campaign Office: 01279 870558; info@stanstedairportwatch.com

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