NEF analysis suggests huge future costs to taxpayer of Southampton airport and its flights

New analysis by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has calculated the cost to society of the carbon emissions generated by UK aviation, and UK airports. These are the costs of the impacts of an altered climate, on infrastructure, extremes of weather, water and energy etc. NEF has used the new carbon values, set out by the government in September 2021. Instead of costing the societal damage done by 1 tonne of carbon at a bit of £70, the price has been put at between a low of £124 to £240 as a medium price, for 2022. Those numbers rise steeply up to 2050 (prices after that have not been considered).  That means most airport expansion schemes, including Southampton’s, are likely not to be viable, and the economics need to be re-calculated. For Southampton, NEF says that just looking at the 2021 prices, the carbon cost to society would not be £421 million (2025 – 2050) by more like £921. And of the £921 only £212 million would be paid in traded emissions. That leaves £742 which would be the cost to the taxpayer – as the cost of an expanded Southampton airport, with more flights and more passengers.


Think tank: Airport expansion will cost you £742 million

by Stephen Slominski  (Eastleigh News)

January 28, 2022

New analysis shows planning application underestimated true cost of carbon clean up says New Economic Foundation

Eastleigh’s Councillors approved the extension of the airport runway north towards the town centre – Pic: Google Earth.

An Independent national think-tank says the cost of cleaning the extra carbon emissions generated at Southampton Airport as a result of extending its runway has been underestimated and will end up costing tax-payers £742 million.

The New Economics Foundation has released its latest analysis using new government guidance which they say shows the true climate cost of Eastleigh Borough Council’s decision to green light airport expansion plans in April last year.

Since then, NEF say the climate costs of the plan have more than doubled. As a result, the planning application is now based on out-of-date estimates of the cost of the climate crisis by not taking account of the government’s uplifted carbon values.

The clean-up costs of Southampton’s airport expansion says the foundation, have now more than doubled, from £421 million to £954 million but only 22% of it will be paid for by the aviation industry. The remaining £742 million, the think-tank warns, will have to be paid for by the tax-payer.

Alex Chapman, researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said:

In light of this new evidence all active UK airport expansions should immediately be paused, and re-evaluated in line with the new guidance. In addition, loopholes in current carbon taxes should be closed, and a Frequent Flyer Levy introduced to make sure the costs of cutting carbon emissions are passed on to the biggest polluters and the wealthiest in our society.

The latest NEF report can be found here.

Eastleigh Borough Council’s decision to grant permission to Southampton Airport is currently facing a legal challenge. Campaigners opposed to airport expansion who are waiting for a date for a Judicial Review have almost crowdfunded £100,000 in total to cover the cost.


Old 2020 departing emissions value (£m)New 2021 departing emissions value (£m)Increase factorStatus
Heathrow24,99849,2122.0Approved by parliament and courts, awaiting application
Gatwick4,5029,1962.0Development consent order application process started
Luton2,6155,2312.0Application for first stage submitted, second stage pending
Manston2,4955,1312.1Secretary of state for transport redetermining application
Stansted*1,0912,4022.2Application approved at appeal
Southampton4219542.3Application approved by Eastleigh Borough Council
Leeds Bradford4239132.2Application approved by council but paused by secretary of state
Bristol2946452.2Awaiting outcome of planning appeal following council rejection

Cost of emissions from departing flights (£m)Forecast price paid for traded emissions (£m)Proportion of climate cost paidImplied cost to wider society and taxpayer (£m)
Leeds Bradford91322024.1%693

Source: NEF analysis of Department for Transport, and planning documents submitted by Gatwick airport, Luton airport, Manston airport, Southampton airport, Leeds Bradford airport, Bristol airport. *Emissions from Stansted airport have been adjusted as described in NEF, 2021.

See earlier:


Realistic cost of carbon emissions likely to make airport expansion plans unviable

The government’s new higher, more realistic, carbon values – putting a cost on carbon emissions from aviation – are likely to make many airport expansion schemes non-viable. The carbon value was increased in September, in an attempt to move towards “net zero” by 2050. The anticipated economic benefits will be drastically cut, if carbon emissions (and their negative impact on society and the planet) are costed properly. The planning law is currently inadequate and ambiguous, but campaigners hope planning authorities will take greater account of the impact of emissions on the economic case of proposed projects. The New Economics Foundation has found that the economic cases for 6 of the 7 major airport expansion proposals — including Heathrow and Gatwick — use either the old carbon value, or none at all.  As yet, planning law in England does not explicitly require carbon values to be used. But the relevant planning authority can demand they are included in applications.  If the anticipated outcome of Bristol’s appeal gave a “clear line” on carbon values, it is very likely to inform other airport expansion decisions.

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Public to foot £62bn bill for climate damage from airport expansions – which the aviation sector should pay for

Analysis by Alex Chapman, working for the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has found that in allowing airports around the country to expand, the government is letting the aviation industry off the hook for £62bn of damage to the climate. The amount of carbon that airports, and mainly aircraft, emit has a negative impact on the global climate – and thus to society.  Governments can put a figure on this cost, for each tonne of emitted carbon. In September 2021 the government increased the carbon value figure from around £70 per tonne to £245 per tonne (central value) for 2021 rising to £378 per tonne by 2050. The new NEF analysis found the aviation industry will only pay for 16% of the emissions clean-up costs of the 8 airport expansions currently moving through UK planning processes (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Southampton, Leeds Bradford and Manston). The higher, more realistic, price for carbon makes these expansion schemes uneconomic, if the carbon is properly paid for.  The government does not have a comprehensive mechanism for recouping these costs from the aviation industry.

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BEIS sets new much higher prices for the valuation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in policy appraisal

The government (BEIS) sets the price it uses for the valuation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in policy appraisal. This has been updated in September following a cross-government review during 2020 and 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions values (“carbon values”) are used across government for valuing impacts on emissions resulting from policy interventions. They represent a monetary value that society places on one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (£/tCO2e). They differ from carbon prices, which represent the observed price of carbon in a relevant market (such as the UK Emissions Trading Scheme). To reach net zero in 2050 and meet UK 5-yearly carbon budgets, there needs to be a realistic value on GHG, in order to reduce emissions. The price has now been set, for 2021, at £245 per tonne (central value) rising to £378 per tonne by 2050. Even that may be too low. The prices now are around £70. This will have significant implications for the forecast economic costs/benefits of future infrastructure, such as airport expansion projects. The claimed economic benefits will be lower, with the realistic carbon prices, than the current low levels.  Airport expansion plans will need to be reassessed.

Annex 1: Carbon values in £2020 prices per tonne of CO2

YearLow seriesCentral SeriesHigh Series