Campaigners warn of global refugees created by Scottish airport expansion

5.2.2009   (World Development Movement)

At lunchtime campaigners protested outside the Scottish Parliament in response
to new data released today which indicates that airport expansion in Scotland
could create 20,000 climate refugees world-wide by 2050. The protestors, symbolising
the 36 Scottish civil servants who fly within the UK every day, handed giant paper
aeroplanes to MSPs, including Patrick Harvie and Cathy Peattie, convener and co-convener
of the Climate Change Committee, urging them to lead the UK by example before
it is too late.  

Simon Bateson from the World Development Movement, which released the data on
climate refugees, said: “MSPs cannot put their heads in the sand. If we don’t
cap flying in Scotland, we risk being responsible for permanently destroying the
dry season water supply of 100,000 people around the world. The Heathrow decision
shows that Westminster is out of touch, but MSPs can still use their reason and
take a stand against expansion at Edinburgh, Prestwick and other Scottish airports.
Aviation must also be counted in the Scottish climate change bill from the outset,
but at the moment it is not.”  

Earlier in the week, the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee
reported that the government’s National Planning Framework leaves the door wide
open on airport expansion.  

Tilly Gifford of the campaign group, Plane Speaking, said: “Loopholes on Scottish
airport expansion in the Government’s National Planning Framework are devious
and damaging, and we urge MSPs to resist what is ultimately harmful for the Scottish
economy as well as the environment.”

Karen Knamiller, one of the protestors, said: “It’s time to catch up and choose
life. The majority of UK businesses are already saying they want to fly less in
the next ten years, and solutions exist. If high-speed rail shared the £10 billion
annual subsidy that the UK aviation industry currently enjoys, passengers could
be travelling to London by train in 3 hours without ruining the lives of millions
of people.”



See all pictures from the protest



  1. MSPs that met with campaigners were: Cathy Peattie, Shirley-Anne Somerville,
    Robin Harper, Patrick Harvie, Mike Pringle and Robert Brown. Patrick Harvie today
    issued a motion to Parliament stating: “That the Parliament acknowledges the recent
    report from the World Development Movement, which found that airport expansion
    in Scotland could create 20,000 climate refugees worldwide by 2050 due to the
    damage caused by those increased climate change emissions; welcomes the plea from
    some 21,000 people that Scotland’s share of international aviation emissions should
    be counted in a Climate Change (Scotland) Bill from the start; notes that campaigners
    will bring this message to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 5th February, in
    order to highlight the case for the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill to explicitly
    commit to action on international aviation emissions from the outset; further
    notes the views of those campaigners that MSPs must not allow the second National
    Planning Framework to support aviation expansion without full and proper public
    and environmental scrutiny and believes aviation expansion remains economically
    unjustified, especially given that the majority of businesses in the UK plan to
    reduce their flying in the next 10 years.”

  2. Campaigners were echoing the 21,000 responses to the 2008 Scottish Climate Change
    Bill consultation which called for Scotland’s share of international aviation
    to be included in an 80% emissions reduction target by 2050. The Government’s
    draft bill, now before Parliament, states that a commitment on aviation will not
    be considered at this stage.

  3. Recently revised Department for Transport figures, which reflect the UK government’s
    2003 white paper The Future of Air Transport, reveal that CO2 equivalent emissions
    from Scottish airports could rise from 5.1 million tonnes to 8.4 million tonnes
    by 2050. The data also indicates that we could see air passenger numbers in Scotland
    rise from 25 million today to 125 million by 2050.

  4. The Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee reported this week

“The second NPF suggests that growth at Scotland’s international airports will
be facilitated through a mix of access enhancements and surface measures such
as new taxiways and hangar facilities. In the last decade growth in air travel
has driven annual increases in emissions from the sector in Scotland of 7% a year
since 1990, and almost 9% a year in the last decade… However, the climate implications
of growth are a simple factor of the number of flights and the efficiency of the
aircraft. The design and location of new public transport links, hangars, terminal
buildings and so forth will have negligible impact on climate implications. Estimates
suggest aircraft efficiency could improve by 1-2% per year71. So simply to hold
emissions stable, flight numbers must not grow more than this. To contribute to
the target reductions in emissions it is necessary for flight numbers to fall.
Using the NPF to designate measures to increase air travel as a national need
therefore sends the wrong message when urgent action on climate change is needed.”  

The report continues:  

“Increasing passenger numbers through Scottish airports could actually worsen
the balance of trade, as expenditure by Scots travelling abroad significantly
outweighs expenditure in Scotland by visitors.”  

Full report at  

  1. Scientists estimate that a 3-4 degree centigrade global temperature rise could
    create 200 million refugees worldwide. The World Development Movement has calculated
    that the share of this attributed to Scottish airport expansion means that:

  • Scottish airports could be responsible for creating around 20,000 climate refugees
    between 2005 and 2050.

  • Scottish airports could be responsible for causing 30,000 more people around
    the world to suffer from extreme hunger.

  • Scottish airports could be responsible for taking away the dry season water supply
    of 100,000 people

  • See the original UK report “Carbon Evictions” at


5.  The World Development Movement is a grass-roots membership organisation which
campaigns against the root causes of poverty in the developing world. Website