FACT SHEET 1: CLIMATE EMERGENCY & AIRCRAFT EMISSIONS
The Fact Sheets are intended as a reference for issues raised by the threatened expansion of Bristol Airport and updated regularly. Comment and suggestions welcome.
Contact: STOPBAex@gmail.com (subject line: attn. LT)
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that, based on a vast and incontrovertible body of scientific evidence, we only have 12 years to save the planet and ourselves from climate-related disaster. In the past 50 years, 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have disappeared because of human activity and we are facing a mass extinction of plants and wildlife and a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. (1)
Climate change will create physical, social and economic disruption on an unprecedented scale. With roughly 1°C of global warming already driven by human activity, the physical impacts are already apparent as glaciers and permafrost melt at an alarming rate and rising sea-levels and extreme weather conditions threaten coastal nations across the world. (2)
2 The Climate Emergency in North Somerset and the region
In November 2018, Bristol City Council unanimously declared a ‘climate emergency’ and the aim for Bristol to be carbon neutral by 2030. In February 2019, North Somerset Council also unanimously declared a ‘climate emergency’ and committed to carbon neutrality. They were followed in July 2019 by Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).
The impacts of climate change are already obvious in many places around the world: food shortages, increased poverty and increased severity of heatwaves, drought, hurricanes and wildfires. In the UK, we will be affected both indirectly (through stresses on global food production and increased conflict) and directly through impacts on our own agriculture, weather extremes, etc. Somerset, in particular Weston-super-Mare, has been identified as one of the most vulnerable locations for increased coastal flooding due to sea level rise.
(Source: Climate Change Risk Assessment Report 2017 prepared for the Committee on Climate Change UK. ttps://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CCRA-Future-Flooding-Main-Report-Final-06Oct2015.pdf)
Putting the data together the all-told impact of the current planning application to 12 million passengers by 2025 is likely to be around 920ktpa CO2e per annum, six times greater than the 154ktpa CO2 stated in the environmental statement. Longer term, BIA’s further planned expansion entails 4.5 million tonnes more CO2e emissions per annum than if development stopped at 10 million annual passengers. A tree takes 40 years to absorb one tonne of CO2: to offset these additional emissions would require 180 million trees to be planted every year. That would mean reforesting an area the size of North Somerset every four months.
(Source: https://www.isonomia.co.uk/just-plane-wrong-bristol-airports-expansion-application/ author Adrian Gibbs.)
3 Bristol Airport: flights and carbon emissions
Aviation is the fastest growing sectors responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and will be the largest single source of carbon emissions by 2050 (3). Bristol Airport is not lagging behind:
.1 in 2017 aviation carbon emissions at Bristol Airport were 746.77 kilo tonnes.
.2 if Airport expansion goes ahead in 2026 this will rise to 1,183.87 kilo tonnes, an increase of 437.1 kilo tonnes or 59% (in less than 10 years!). This figure could be higher if a newer, less-polluting aircraft do not materialise. (4)
.3 These extra CO2 emissions generated by air traffic will far exceed any savings made by road traffic diverting from the London airports.
.4 These ‘savings’ are in any case highly speculative and estimated to be at best 18 kilo tonnes a year, so net emission increase from Airport expansion will be 419 kilo tonnes per year!
.5 The Department for Transport (DfT) aviation forecasts modelled growth at all airports in 2013 at 60% [clarify] and the figure under many of the models for Bristol was for 10-12 million passengers per annum (mppa) at 2050. This compares with the Airport’s application to achieve this figures by 2025! The Airport ‘Planning Performance Agreement’ (appearing under the current Airport application) states that the growth in the current application is phase 1 of growth to 20 mppa.
By any measure the Airport application is out of all proportion to any reasonable growth prediction.
(See: 18/P/5118/OUT ‘Planning Performance Agreement’). Addendum 5 – May 2019, ‘Further comments by the PCAA to Bristol Airport application 18/P/5118/OUT on Climate Change’.
.6 Flying not only emits CO2, but by emitting other gases and particles at altitude and forming contrails, there is an additional contribution to global warming that may be even more significant. Because these ‘non-CO2 effects’ are variable and hard to calculate, they are almost always ignored in planning and policy decisions, meaning that the climate impact of aviation is significantly underestimated. Because of this, the government’s guidelines for company reporting of CO2 emissions suggests multiplying aviation emissions by 1.9. Bristol Airport’s figures break down aviation emissions into ‘cruise’ and ‘landing and take-off’. If the former were multiplied by 1.9, that would take the airport’s current total annual emissions up to the equivalent of 1,500ktCO2, and at 12 million passengers the equivalent of 2,500ktCO2 – more than double the total CO2 from all other transport, homes, and industry in North Somerset.
(Source: Campaign Against Climate Change response to BAL planning application). https://planning.n-somerset.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=PJML85LPMKI00
.7 Bristol Airport’s) planning application follows a convention where emissions are only counted for outgoing flights, with incoming flight emissions attributed to other airports. Ignoring the ‘return’ half of emissions in planning application environmental statements doesn’t make any sense. If an airport is looking to lay on 10,000 more outgoing flights and 10,000 more returning flights, then the net increase is 20,000 additional flights.
.8 Putting the data together the all-told impact of the current planning application to 12 million passengers by 2025 is likely to be around 920ktpa CO2e per annum, six times greater than the 154ktpa CO2 stated in the environmental statement. Longer term, BIA’s further planned expansion entails 4.5 million tonnes more CO2e emissions per annum than if development stopped at 10 million annual passengers. A tree takes 40 years to absorb one tonne of CO2: to offset these additional emissions would require 180 million trees to be planted every year. That would mean reforesting an area the size of North Somerset every four months.
(Source: https://www.isonomia.co.uk/just-plane-wrong-bristol-airports-expansion-application/ author Adrian Gibbs)
.9 Growth at Heathrow is expected to be 60% [source tbc] which would take all the carbon allowance allotted to other airports. The logical conclusion is that no regional airports should grow any further until there is a decision on Heathrow. The ‘get-out’ clause is carbon offsetting and this will need particular scrutiny in future.
4 Further information
.1 In burning fuel, aircraft produce carbon dioxide and a cocktail of other pollutants. A modern, heavily loaded jet plane produces around 0.1kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) per passenger kilometre, so for every passenger on a full flight to Palma (the top destination from Bristol (1,465 km), around 146kg of CO2 will go into the atmosphere. Older planes or those carrying fewer passengers will produce more. [Source tbc.]
.3 The UK Committee on Climate Change (UK CCC)  expects growth in the aviation sector of around 5% p.a. The ‘Further Ambition’ scenario allows a 60% increase in passenger demand above 2005 levels by 2050 (demand is currently around 30% higher). A reduction in emissions could be possible if demand were to be lower e.g. 20-40% above 2005 levels would imply a further saving in emissions of 4-8 MtCO2e). This could reflect a future change in consumer preferences and social norms, or more ambitious policy to limit growth in demand.’ (CCC,156)
.4 the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) designed by the air industry recommends international offsetting. This is essentially the industry monitoring itself and the scheme has many flaws and is difficult to monitor. The UKCCC recommends that offsetting should be for the aviation sector should be contained within the U.K
.5 The UK CCC report states that the aviation sector should not rely on ‘afforestation’ (i.e. planting new trees on new lands) to offset its emissions but look to technologies that directly capture carbon from the air, paid for by the aviation industry. This is welcome but doesn’t address the urgency of the climate emergency.
.6 UK CCC wants to reduce aviation emissions to 31metric tonnes (Mt) of CO2 by 2050, 25% less than the level currently predicted by the Department for Transport. (The Government currently predicts aviation emissions of over 40 Mt by 2050, the original figure of emissions set in 2005 was 37.5 Mt). This is going to be exceedingly difficult even with a fleet of new efficient aircraft, biofuels etc.
.7 The IPCC report states that ‘the annual costs of removing emissions from the atmosphere are potentially large in our scenarios (e.g. of the order of £10 billion in 2050, possibly as high as £20 billion). These could be paid by industries, like aviation, that have not reduced their own emissions to zero. That would imply increasing costs (e.g. for flights) from 2035, as emission removals scale up in our scenarios.’ [Source: page ref tba]
.8 In October 2018, EasyJet issued a press release stating it planned to introduce a short-haul electric fleet of aircraft within 10 years, working in conjunction with a start-up company called Wright Electric. The chief executive officer of Wright Electric, Jeff Engler has since acknowledged that the projected range of 335-miles is beyond the capabilities of today’s batteries and that the lithium-ion battery technology required may not progress quickly enough to achieve this goal within the next decade.
7 Looking Forward
.1 It is inevitable that politicians will have to consider constraining the demand for flying and that the cost of a ticket will increase. In 2017 the total transport sector, including international aviation and shipping (IAS) accounted for over a third of UK greenhouse gas emissions (34% by source or 37% by end user). Aviation in particular has grown significantly, with levels in 2017 more than double 1990 level.
.2 The government will need to constrain demand for air travel, to and from UK airports consistent with an emissions reduction pathway to net zero. The UK Committee on Climate Change (UK CCC) has suggested carbon pricing, reforms to Air Passenger Duty, or policies to manage the use of airport capacity as measures to constrain the increase in passenger numbers to 20-60% of 2005 levels.
UK CCC 2019 Net-Zero, the UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, 2nd May 2019. [source: page + link tba]
.3 Additional measures that should be considered include an immediate halt on expansion of airport capacity and the introduction of pricing mechanisms such as a frequent flyer levy and removal of tax breaks on aviation fuel for domestic and EU flights. These would be fair and effective ways of limiting the disproportionate amount of air travel by a small proportion of people, with two thirds of flights from the UK made by less than 20% of people.
Friends of the Earth policy document: A net zero carbon budget for the whole transport sector, April 2019 https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/print/pdf/node/123
.4 The current hype around electric aircraft is known in the trade as the ‘peak of inflated expectations.’ They will come, but it will take a long time to arrive. It should also be remembered that manufacturing aircraft uses immense amounts of natural resources and produces huge amounts of pollution. Their environmental impact is not limited to flight.
.5 In October 2018, EasyJet issued a press release stating it planned to introduce a short-haul electric fleet of aircraft within 10 years, working in conjunction with a start-up company called Wright Electric. The chief executive officer of Wright Electric, Jeff Engler has since acknowledged that the projected range of 335-miles is beyond the capabilities of today’s batteries and that the lithium-ion battery technology required may not progress quickly enough to achieve this goal within the next decade.
5 Cooking the UK Carbon Books: lies, more lies & statistics
Take care with Government claims about UK commitment to carbon reduction. For example, statistics showing we have reduced carbon emissions by 40% since 1990 exclude international aviation and shipping (IAS) (3). Nor is there mention that we have outsourced most of our carbon-emitting activities – we still purchase the goods from cheaper sources that we still consume but no longer manufacture in the UK.
LT, Factsheet Editor
Sources and references
Essential sources of information on emissions and the climate emergency
(1) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 8 Oct 2018. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
(2) The Carbon Brief organisation: https://www.carbonbrief.org/
(3) Sandra Laville, ‘UK’s “creative carbon accounting” breaches climate deal’, The Guardian.
This shows ways in which carbon emissions are routinely misrepresented by the UK government see
(4) Parish Councils Airport Association (2019), Environmental Statement volume 1, Ch 17 of the Bristol Airport planning application 18/P/5118/OUT
Analysis of emissions and much else has been undertaken by the Parish Councils Airport Association and appears in their submission on the planning application.
(5) UK Committee on Climate Change (v.May 2019). ‘Net Zero: the UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’.