Airport expansion plans show that local planning decisions on airports must be aligned with national carbon targets

Aviation CO2 accounted for 7% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, but this figure will inevitably grow if demand for air travel is allowed to increase. Allowing more demand means it would be even harder to meet UK carbon targets, as there are no realistic ways to reduce aviation emissions, other than by tiny amounts several decades ahead. Better infrastructure planning is needed in the UK, with local decisions aligned towards meeting national climate targets; currently they are not.  France has blocked the building of a 4th terminal at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, on grounds of carbon emissions. But UK airport expansion plans contradict its climate commitments, with expansion plans pushing ahead fast – while there is still no coherent UK policy on aviation carbon.  Plans for new building at Leeds Bradford, Southampton, Bristol, Luton, Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow would mean far, far more carbon being emitted by the extra flights and passengers generated than the UK aviation passenger limit – advised by the Committee on Climate Change.  Demand needs to be reduced.  The government should align its national policy statements, used to guide planning, with its net zero target, to compel local authorities to factor climate change into their infrastructure decisions.


Airport expansion plans show that national and local decisions are at odds on climate

18 February, 2021

by Green Alliance blog

by Agathe de Canson and Jo Furtado, policy advisers at Green Alliance.

Last week, the French government scrapped plans to expand its largest airport, Roissy Charles de Gaulle, citing environmental concerns. A few days later, Leeds City Council voted to expand Leeds Bradford Airport.  

Aviation emissions accounted for seven per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, but this figure will inevitably grow [CCC advice on aviation] if demand increases, making it harder still to limit the emissions of a sector that has no straightforward way to decarbonise. Airport expansion, like road expansion, increases demand, so will make it much harder to reach our climate goals.

The contrast between these two airport decisions shows that a better approach to infrastructure planning is needed in the UK, so national and local decisions are aligned towards meeting climate targets. 

The French government has scrapped a major airport expansion project 
Roissy is France’s largest airport, with over 76 million passengers in 2019. That year, it accounted for more than half of the country’s aviation emissions, which made up 6.4% of France’s total CO2 emissions.

The now aborted plan for a new terminal would have added 40 million passengers a year by 2037, a 50% increase in traffic compared to current levels. The associated jump in carbon emissions it would have caused was incompatible with France’s climate  targets. [French government strategy] 

French ecology minister Barabara Pompili has now declared the project “obsolete”, stating that it “no longer corresponded to the government’s environmental policy”.

The stark fall in passengers due to Covid-19 had also raised doubts about the project. The French government is a majority shareholder of the airport group that owns Roissy, essentially giving it a veto over the expansion plans.

UK airport expansion plans contradict its climate commitments

In contrast, Leeds City Council’s decision to green light plans for a new terminal will see annual passengers rise by 3 million in 2030, generating more emissions than will be permitted for the whole of Leeds in 2030 under the council’s own carbon reduction targets.

The Leeds Bradford Airport project is just one of many airport expansion plans in the UK: Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Southampton airports all have planning applications in the pipeline. Heathrow could also still expand, as the ruling [Feb 2020 Appeal Court ] stating that plans for a third runway were unlawful on climate change grounds were recently overturned. [16th December 2020 Supreme Court ruling that the ANPS was legal]. 

These projects will make UK climate targets hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Until genuinely low carbon aviation technologies have been proven at scale, reducing demand for aviation is the best way to reduce emissions from the sector. The Climate Change Committee, which provides impartial advice to the government, has said  [December 2020 CCC advice to government on the Sixth Carbon Budget] there should be no net expansion of airports.

The committee also says  [Sixth Carbon Budget advice] that, compared to 2019 figures, passenger numbers should rise by no more than 68 million in 2050.

Heathrow’s new terminal could grow passengers by 55 million,  [from 81 million in 2019 to 136 million in 2050, an increase of 55 million]  and plans to expand Gatwick, Stansted and Luton could increase the number by a further 58 million. Together, these plans blow the committee’s cap, based on what’s needed to meet climate targets, by a long way.

Local and national decision making on infrastructure must work hand in hand

Despite national ambitions to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and the majority of local authorities [ Carbon Copy’s updates on which local authorities have declared climate emergencies etc] having made climate pledges, climate is frequently not a factor in local and national infrastructure decisions. This tension is becoming increasingly clear this year, with legal battles around airport expansion [legal challenges against the government allowing Heathrow expansion and the ANPS] plans and the proposal for a new coal mine in Cumbria.

Unlike the Roissy Airport case, infrastructure decisions in the UK are mostly made locally, although ministers can intervene if required. Our research shows that lack of clarity in the way responsibilities are divided up between councils and central government makes it hard to draw a line around the emissions within a council’s control and, therefore, which emissions they are responsible for mitigating.

Local decision making is driven primarily by local growth and employment opportunities. Councillors who approved the Leeds Bradford Airport expansion quoted the airport company’s own dubious figures  [data from local group GALBA on the exaggerated jobs and economic benefits numbers]  that the project would create 12,000 new jobs, and maintained that, if it didn’t expand, other airports would simply pick up the additional demand.

One solution is for the government to align its national policy statements, used to guide planning, with its net zero target, to compel local authorities to factor climate change into their infrastructure decisions.

Investment in low carbon industries and transport are also much needed to boost green jobs across the country. The government must make this a priority in its upcoming budget and transport decarbonisation plan. Otherwise, local authorities will continue to fall back on high carbon infrastructure projects to guarantee jobs for their communities. But, as the world changes fast in response to the climate emergency, these decisions risk being short term and unsustainable.


See earlier

Airport growth plans are for way more passengers than carbon targets could permit

Despite the dire financial state of airports and airlines due to Covid, airports are pressing ahead with huge expansion plans – in the hope these could be approved before the government produces proper policies on UK carbon emissions. Leeds City Council (11th Feb) approved plans for a new airport terminal, to increase the number of passengers. Heathrow, Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, Bristol and Southampton airports all want to expand – increasing the number of passengers. But the advice to the UK government by its official advisers, the CCC (the Committee on Climate Change), is that there should be no more than 365 million passengers per year (mppa) by 2050, up from about 297 mppa in 2019 – a 23% rise – about 68 million. But if all the airport expansion plans went ahead, that might mean 532 mppa by 2050, (235 mppa more) which is over x3 the cap needed to meet UK climate pledges. This means if some airports expand, others cannot – or would have to contract. The government must decide by June whether to incorporate this into law, or to explain why it is rejecting the CCC’s advice. Heathrow’s 3rd runway alone could add 55 mppa.  The UK has to create a more effective way to allocate the remaining capacity for growth, rather than allow an “expansion frenzy” with decisions made by different bodies.

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Leeds City Council approves Leeds Bradford airport plans for new terminal (ie. more passengers, more carbon, more noise)

Leeds City Council has approved (subject to additional conditions still to be negotiated) Leeds Bradford Airport’s plans for a larger terminal to accommodate more passengers. This decision will entrench in the Leeds economy the growth of a carbon intensive industry. There is no certainty that the promised jobs will actually materialise, as the sector increasingly automates work. Objectors including climate scientists, transport experts and residents’ groups, warned such an expansion would help facilitate catastrophic climate change, as well as unbearable levels of noise pollution for those living close by. The application sought to demolish the existing passenger pier to accommodate a new terminal building and forecourt area. This would also include the construction of supporting infrastructure, goods yard and mechanical electrical plant. There are also plans to modify flight time controls, and to reduce the night-time flight period, with a likely increase from 5 to 17 flights between 6am and 7am.  A professor of transport planning said there are inadequate contributions to road and rail infrastructure. Local group GALBA says there could still be a legal decision against the  proposals.

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France drops plans to build 4th terminal at Paris Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) airport on climate concerns

In order to avoid increasing carbon emissions, the French government has decided not to allow plans for a 4th terminal at Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport in Paris.  It says the project is obsolete.  The Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, said:  “The government has asked the ADP group [Aéroports de Paris] to abandon its project and to present a new one, more consistent with its objectives of fighting against climate change and environmental protection.”  The plan had been for construction to start in 2021. The board of directors of ADP Group should ratify this decision next week. ADP’s chairman and chief executive Augustin de Romanet said ADP had taken note of the government decision and would consider its future plans on how to develop the Charles de Gaulle airport to make it less environmentally damaging. It will consider reducing energy use, more surface access, and perhaps different jet fuels.  The French government has a stake of just over 50% in ADP’s share capital. In 2019 Heathrow had 80.8 million passengers, and Roissy had 76.1million. The 4th terminal was intended to cope with 35-40 million passengers. Covid has caused uncertainty about future air travel demand for Paris – so the reason for the rejection may not all be due to climate concerns …

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 Au revoir to Paris’ airport expansion

It’s Tuesday, February 16, and France is scrapping plans for a new terminal at its biggest airport.



plan to expand France’s largest airport will no longer be taking off after the French government said it didn’t align with the country’s environmental goals. The operator of Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport had planned to build a fourth terminal to increase the airport’s capacity by 35 million to 40 million passengers every year. But one of France’s top environmental ministers, Barbara Pompili, has asked the operator to abandon the expansion, saying that the country’s plan to cut emissions trumps the airport’s economic goals.

The plan for the second-busiest airport in Europe was meant to increase its capacity by more than 50 percent by 2037. The government said the future expansion is not completely off the table, but it is calling for any revised plans to align with the country’s emission goals and the changing needs of the airline industry, which has seen demand plummet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision came a day after a bill was introduced to the French Parliament that would prohibit any airport expansion from 2022 onward if it results in a net increase in emissions. It would also ban airlines from operating domestic flights between destinations where a train connection is available in less than two and a half hours.  — Adam Mahoney