NGOs write to Aviation Minister asking that airport expansions are stopped until aviation CO2 emissions can actually be reduced

Currently there are expansion plans by 7 UK airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Southampton and Manston) and government has no coherent policy on aviation carbon emissions in relation to the UK “net zero” by 2050 target. So a group of NGOs (AEF, AirportWatch, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, Possible and T&E) has written to Aviation Minister, Robert Courts, calling on the Government to withdraw its policy support for airport expansion until aviation carbon emissions are actually falling, and wider UK emissions are substantially below a 1.5C-compliant trajectory.  It also voices concerns that the Government’s draft Jet Zero strategy is built around assumptions that future increases in sustainable fuels and carbon removals will occur after 2030, but with no clear policy plan to ensure that happens. The letter points out that neither the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) for a new runway at Heathrow nor the Making Best Use (MBU) policy for other airports – both released in 2018 – have yet been assessed for their compatibility with achieving net zero aviation by 2050.  Planning authorities should not be left reliant on out-of-date policies when determining applications for airport expansion – as happens now.


This letter has been sent to the Minister and press

18th May, 2022


The letter:

Robert Courts MP
Minister for Aviation and Maritime
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
London, SW1P 4DR

18 May 2022


Dear Minister

Your Government will shortly publish its Jet Zero strategy on how to decarbonise aviation,
and while we welcome the intention of laying out a plan, we are concerned about the
proposed approach. The technological solutions on which the Government is relying to
deliver net zero aviation come with a high level of risk and are unable to deliver emissions
reductions in the critical short term period between now and 2035. Expanding airports will
increase the size of the problem. We urge you therefore to put a halt to airport expansion
pending a review of both the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) for new runway
infrastructure in the South-East of England, and the Making Best Use (MBU) policy for other

The draft Jet Zero strategy is built around assumptions that increases in sustainable fuels and carbon removals will occur after 2030. There are also assumptions that improvements in
efficiency will occur at a rate far faster than has been historically recorded. As proponents of
climate action, we support the development of new technology to help in the decarbonisation of aviation. However, with no policy plan to ensure that the measures assumed in your modelling are delivered it is hard to have any confidence that they will be.  While some policies are in the process of development, such as the SAF mandate proposal, it will clearly take time to establish many of them.  Issues still to be addressed by way of policy include: delivering the level of carbon pricing assumed in the modelling; guaranteeing large-scale greenhouse gas removals; and increasing the rate of both aircraft and airspace
efficiency improvements.

Meanwhile, many airports are bringing forward plans to expand their capacity and increase
passenger numbers. Planning authorities have been left reliant on the Airports NPS and MBU as statements of Government policy, both of which provide qualified support for expansion and indicate that carbon emissions should be considered at a national level. But these were written before the UK legislated for net zero and before the Government committed to include International Aviation and Shipping in the sixth carbon budget. Both the ANPS and MBU need to be reviewed.

As part of its sixth carbon budget advice, the Climate Change Committee said that “there
should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently
outperform its net emissions trajectory and can accommodate the additional demand.”
Forcing local planning authorities to rely on out-of-date policies when making long-term
infrastructure decisions is not compatible with either the nation’s net zero legal commitments or the Government’s Jet Zero aspirations.

The Government should not permit airport expansion until and unless aviation emissions are
actually falling, and emissions are substantially below a 1.5C-compliant trajectory. Neither
the Airports NPS nor MBU policies have yet been assessed for their compatibility with
delivering net zero aviation by 2050, as committed to in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan
of 2021 and in the Jet Zero Strategy of 2022, and these policies should be withdrawn until
they are updated to become net-zero compliant.

We would welcome a meeting with you to discuss these issues, and our concerns, in more

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Clayton, Co-ordinator, AirportWatch
Cait Hewitt, Policy Director, Aviation Environment Federation (AEF)
Dave Timms, Head of Political Affairs, Friends of the Earth
Roz Bulleid, Deputy Policy Director, Green Alliance
Doug Parr, Policy Director, Greenpeace UK
Leo Murray, Director of Innovation, Possible
Matt Finch, UK Policy Manager, Transport & Environment (T&E)