Edinburgh airport’s tree project is trampled by its carbon elephants
1.4.2010 (Guardian – Fred Pearce’s Greenwash)
by Fred Pearce
Edinburgh airport funding children to plant 500 trees is vastly overshadowed
by its expansion and huge carbon emissions
So that’s all right then. After almost tripling the number of passengers using
its runway over the past 15 years, one of Britain’s fastest growing airports has
given itself a green makeover. Edinburgh airport is, according to a story on the
BBC website last week, to shell out so school children can plant 500 trees in
a wood in Perthshire. “Airport in global warming project” is the priceless headline.
“It’s a great example of how we can all play a part, however small, in safeguarding
the natural environment,” said the airport’s commercial director Neil Anderson.
“However small” is, I think, the operative phrase here.
But Anderson has more. The airport’s new £40m departure lounge, set for completion
next year, will have “energy efficient lights” (are there any other sort these days?), while “every effort
will be made to reduce energy and water use, minimise waste and promote recycling”.
Hmm. That is “every effort” consistent with ensuring the departure lounge can up its throughput of passengers from the current 9 million to 14 million by 2013. And that is a down payment on a strategy to have 26 million passengers by 2030,
envisioned in the airport master plan.
Edinburgh is following the trick of Manchester International a couple of years ago, using a series of perfectly sensible energy-saving initiatives on the ground
to provide a bit of cover for the huge blasts of carbon dioxide and other pollution
that its “up, up and away” expansion activities will cause aloft.
Anything, it seems, to avoid discussing the elephants on their runways.
The results can be comic. The energy consultant Entec produced a report for the
airport last year on its “carbon footprint”. It promised to look at both its direct
and indirect emissions. “In choosing which emissions to include,” the report says, the airport company EDI “sought to be as comprehensive as possible, including
those sources that would be expected to be associated with an airport and activities
in EDI’s supply chain.”
You might imagine that such a comprehensive approach would include the emissions
from the flights delivering and removing the airport’s “supply chain” of passengers.
But it turns out that aircraft emissions only count while they are on the company’s
tarmac and during the first thousand metres of takeoff and landing. As Forum for the Future said of Manchester airport’s green auditing “this jars somewhat”. Even so, the
planned expansion means that the airport’s carbon footprint is set to soar.
A spokesman for the airport said that people are going to fly anyway, so “as
responsible corporate citizens, we have a duty to mitigate what we can”. Maybe.
But even fans of the airline industry argue that we should be taking more short journeys by train. And Edinburgh currently specialises in short flights we could just as easily do by
I checked its destination board for flights one day this week. Allowing for a bit of code-sharing, I found 138 flights of which 77, more than half, were to destinations on the British mainland with railway stations.
OK, Edinburgh to Exeter is a long haul on the train. About seven hours. But most
of those internal flights are going to London and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
In term of emissions per kilometre travelled, these short flights are especially
heavy polluters. Airports that depend on them are environmental pariahs.
I admit I have flown from Edinburgh to London, though I usually catch the train.
The most irritating thing is that the railway line out of Edinburgh goes right
past the perimeter fence, but there is no station. So air passengers mostly get
to the airport by car.
The last airport master plan, revised in 2006, talked grandly about its “commitment to public transport”,
and boasts that a fifth of its passengers arrive on the bus. A fifth!
But the long-touted Edinburgh airport rail link to get trains from the perimeter
fence to the terminal is going nowhere. “Project status: suspended” as its website puts it.
The necessary parliamentary bill received royal assent in April 2007. But the
website’s last headline was from September 2007: “Following a motion passed in
the Scottish parliament the EARL project is to be suspended.” Work “will be preserved
and archived in a manner which does not close down future options.”
“It’s cancelled. The Scottish National party decided after the last election
here that they had better things to do with the £600m it was going to cost to
tunnel under the runway,” said the airport spokesman. Certainly the airport’s
owner BAA, which originally pitched the link as an integral part of the airport’s
expansion plans, wasn’t paying.
There is, it’s true, a tram on the way. But it looks like Edinburgh airport is
headed for the worst of all carbon footprints: yet more flights to England and yet more cars heading for the airport.
I am in favour of schoolchildren planting trees. I am not in favour of greenwashing
link to article
BAA’s carbon emission calculations for their airports.
Edinburgh Airport done done by ENTEC.
In summary this says:
Scope 1. Direct Emissions
2,474 tonnes (fuel use and company owned emissions) (page 14)
13,071 tonnes (electricity use)
Edinburgh Scope 1 + 2 about 1.75 kg CO2 per passenger.
All direct emissions are 15,545 tonnes CO2 per year.
148,173 tonnes (includes aircraft movements on runway and near to surface, water
All of the indirect (Scope 3*) emissions are 148,116 tonnes
So the total of these two is about 163,000 tonnes CO2
* Scope 3 is ground movements, and departures initial climb to 450 metres climb
and then climb to 1,000 metres. And approaching flights form 1000 metres, and
landing roll and reverse thrust.
By contrast, calcultions by the Bristol AirportWatch South West group indicate
(very approximately) that – excluding air cargo – emissions from flights taking
off from Edinburgh are around 396,700 tonnes of CO2.
So doubling that, to take account for flights arriving as well as departing,
is almost 800,000 tonnes of CO2.
An average mature (not young, below about 15 – 20 years old) tree can sequester
around 10 kilos of CO2 per year. Therefore 500 little trees planted now will
be – with a bit of luck – sequestering around 5,000 tonnes of CO2 in total per
year, by 2025.
That puts the greenwash into context …..