Climate Change News

Below are news items on climate change – many with relevance to aviation

Southampton airport runway extension plans would lead to higher CO2 emissions

Plans to lengthen Southampton Airport’s runway (by 164 metres) have come under fire amid concerns over their impact on climate change. The airport's 2nd public consultation on revised plans has now been launched. Local campaigners Airport Expansion Opposition (AXO) said: “A ‘carbon-neutral’ airport’ is like ‘fat-free lard’. It’s just not possible. We need to act now on climate change.  Lower carbon fuels and electric planes capable of carrying significant numbers of passengers are decades away. The airport says extending the runway isn’t about ‘bigger planes’. But its own figures show that it is about flying many more of the bigger, noisier A320 jets than previously. The result of this is, as the new documents show, over 40,000 extra local people being exposed to aircraft noise.” And "Regional connectivity can be maintained with the airport as it currently is, and since most travellers are UK residents heading out on holiday most of the benefit of their travel will be abroad.” The airport claims its future is in doubt (usual stuff about jobs...) unless it lengthens the runway.

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£200 million from government for research into lower carbon planes

The UK government has unveiled £400m in private and public sector funding for technologies and research aimed at cutting aviation CO2 emissions. BEIS has announced that projects aiming to develop high performance engines, new wing designs and ultra-lightweight cabin seats - all intended to cut fuel consumption - will be getting funding from the Government's Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) programme of £200 million.  Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the £200 million would be matched by £200m from industry. There may also be money from universities, including Nottingham and Birmingham, for this research. The ambition is "zero carbon aviation" as  part of the Government's FlyZero initiative. Britain would like to become a world leader etc in lower carbon aviation technologies. There is a The Net Zero All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of MPs that is working on the necessary transition to "net zero" by 2050.  The UK needs to be seen to be leading on this, before hosting COP26 in November 2021 (postponed from Nov 2020). The APPG has a 10 point action plan that says fossil fuel extractors and importers, as well as airlines, should be required to permanently store an increasing percentage of CO2 generated by the products they sell, rising to 100% by 2050, via a proposed "carbon takeback obligation."

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Natural England says Leeds Bradford Airport expansion should not be approved – necessary details have not been provided

The government's environment adviser, Natural England, says Leeds City Council should not approve controversial plans for the Leeds Bradford Airport expansion, unless further evidence on the potential impacts is provided.  Natural England states the airport's planning application lacks detail and "there is currently not enough information to rule out the likelihood of significant effects" on the environment. It has asked the airport to provide additional information, so the council can asses the impact the new £150 million terminal would have on air quality, local wildlife and protected landscapes.  Natural England therefore advises Leeds City Council that it should not grant planning permission at this stage. The airport wants to increase passengers numbers from 4 million to 7 million a year. Climate scientists, environmentalists, The Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) and four Leeds MPs are also calling on the council to reject the new plans. GALBA, said the airport has not bothered to assess the damage that their expansion plans would do to wildlife and nature.

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Public consultation over Southampton runway extension slightly delayed – and campaigners fight for Marlhill Copse trees

The public consultation through Eastleigh Borough Council over plans to extend Southampton Airport's runway by 164 metres has been delayed. It was due to start on July 10th, but now the start date is not known - the delay may only be a week or so. The consultation is due to last 30 days. The airport also wants to add 600 more parking spaces to the existing long stay car park. There is a lot of local opposition to the plans, largely due to the noise impact and the extra carbon emissions of more flights. Neighbouring local authorities including Winchester and Southampton councils objected to the scheme.  There has already been one consultation, in late 2019, and the airport may make modifications in this second consultation. The final decision will be by Eastleigh Borough Council. The airport bought a small woodland near the airport, Marlhill Copse in 2018. It now wants to fell many of the trees, citing safety concerns. The trees in fact would only be a potential safety concern if the airport is allowed to expand. Three trees have already been felled, on the pretext of "good forestry management".  Campaigners are trying to get this tree felling and tree height reduction stopped.

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Government grants Manston DCO to allow the airport to re-open, against Planning Inspectorate recommendation

Manston has been closed as an airport since May 2014. It is the first airport to have to take its plans through the DCO (Development Consent Order) process, dependant on the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). It always failed as an airport in the past, largely due to its location. In October 2019, the Planning Inspector recommended to the Secretary of State for Transport that Manston should not be re-opened. The decision was then for transport minister Andrew Stephenson, "with the secretary of state, Grant Shapps, recused to avoid any conflict of interest."  He has now given approval to the DCO for the airport to re-open, for cargo and even passengers - overruling the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). The airport claims it could open by 2023, handling up to 10,000 cargo flights a year as well as passenger services, with construction starting as early as 2021. There is huge opposition to the plans, due to noise and air pollution. The approach path from the east is directly over Ramsgate, about 2 miles from the airport. PINS had said opening Manston would have "a material impact on the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets". The ANPS is currently not valid, awaiting a Supreme Court hearing on 7th and 8th October.

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Prof Whitelegg: How the aviation sector should be reformed following the Covid-19 crisis

Prof John Whitelegg says the Covid pandemic provides a key opportunity for major reforms to the aviation sector.  The sector is not likely to reduce its carbon emissions to the extent necessary, even for the net zero target for 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has said there will need to be measures to limit demand for air travel, and it "cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term.” They say "we still expect the sector to emit more than any other in 2050.” Aviation continues to receive an effective subsidy, due to the absence of VAT and fuel duty that amounts to about £11 billion per year (compared to about £3.8 billion taken in APD). There are well known negative health impacts caused the plane noise, with some of the best researched being cardiovascular.  We need to change the dominant expectation that air travel with continue to grow.  There has to be realisation that air passengers must pay the costs of the environmental damage they cause. Some necessary changes would be charging VAT; taxing frequent fliers; adopting WHO noise standards for health; full internalisation of external costs; fiscal instruments to shift all passenger journeys under 500kms in length from air to rail. And more.

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International aviation and shipping likely to be added to UK carbon budgets – but not in time for the 6th budget?

Even excluding international aviation and shipping (IAS) the CO2 from transport makes up about of the UK's total emissions. But so far these emissions have been excluded from the UK's 5-year carbon budgets. This has been a glaring deficiency of the budgets, even if the aviation and shipping emissions were to some extent "taken account of". There has been pressure for years, and repeated advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - the government's official advisers on climate - to include these sectors fully, starting now.  It appears that, at last, this will eventually happen and they will follow the CCC's guidance.  But not before 2023.  This emerged from the first meeting of the Department for Transport’s net zero board, which included some environmental campaigners. The government recently said aviation makes up 8% of the UK's climate impact.  UK carbon budgets are set 12 years ahead of time to provide sufficient long-term guidance to investors. The 5th carbon budget (covering 2028 - 2032) has already been set, without the inclusion of IAS. The 6th carbon budget will be set in 2021. The CCC will publish its advice to government on the 6th budget, for 2033 - 2037 in December 2020.  But 2023 is too late for this ... so the 7th carbon budget?

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Study shows the unequal distribution of household carbon footprints in Europe – and air travel component

A study carried out by Leeds University and Trondheim University (Norway) looked at the distribution of household carbon footprints in European counties. It investigated the link between higher household income, and their carbon emissions. This included the contribution from air travel. The authors say they found significant inequality in the distribution of high carbon footprints (CFs). The top 10% of the EU population with the highest CFs contribute more carbon compared to the 50% of the EU population with the lowest CFs.  Only 5% of the EU households (eg in Romania) live within a CF target of 2.5 tCO2eq/capita per year, while the top 1% of EU households have CFs of 55 tCO2eq/capita.  The most significant contribution to CO2 is from air and land transport, making up 41% and 21% respectively of the CF for the top 1% of EU households.The households with the highest CFs are by and large the households with the highest levels of income and  expenditure. The high CO2 emissions by the more affluent present challenges for environmental and social objectives. The authors say: "Exploring the prerequisites for living well within carbon limits is a key focus of our time."

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Electric flying not feasible for larger planes or longer distances

There has been a lot of mention in recent years about the possibility of planes being powered by electricity. That has the potential to cut the CO2 emissions of aircraft. However, the aspiration of electric planes is likely to be a dangerous diversion from taking measures now to cut the CO2 from the sector, if it has the effect of creating the false hope of breakthroughs. The reality is that flying needs a very energy-dense fuel, such as kerosene. Currently there are some tiny planes, able to carry under 10 passengers, that may be able to make short flights, of under 1,000 km, in the next few years. That is entirely different from a passenger plane carrying 200 passengers many thousand miles.  Power is particularly needed on take-off, and while climbing. Liquid jet fuel is burned during the flight, so the planes lands lighter than when it took off. The battery is the same weight throughout, putting more stress on the plane while landing. The engines would have to use propellers, and not be jets - and there are limits on how fast propellers can turn. There are real constraints, caused by physics, in the ability of electricity to power larger aircraft.

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Airlines granted huge CO2 emissions reprieve by UN compromise, even further weakening the CORSIA scheme

The UN’s aviation emissions offsetting scheme, CORSIA, will not take 2020 into account as the baseline when calculating how much airlines have to pay to neutralise their CO2 emissions. Normally, without the atypical year due to the Covid pandemic, the emissions baseline (reference point) would have been taken as 2019 and 2020. Now only 2019 emissions will be used.  Had 2020's far lower CO2 emissions been included, that would have created a much more taxing challenge for airlines, and would have meant them having to buy many more carbon credits, costing them much more money.  Environmental groups have derided the decision to ignore 2020's emissions as “making a mockery” of climate policy. The change will mean that the 3-year pilot scheme will be useless, as CO2 emissions from aviation are unlikely to climb back to the level in 2019. There will be no CO2 requiring offsets, being below the now raised threshold. According to Carbon Market Watch, “while CORSIA will officially start in 2021, airlines will not have to do anything until several years later.” Anyway, carbon credits are now ludicrously cheap.

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