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Press Release: Leeds University Climate Scientists Object to Leeds Bradford Airport Expansion

Leeds University climate scientists object to Leeds Bradford Airport expansion, warning that the airport would produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the maximum allowed for the whole of Leeds.

Climate science experts from Leeds University have objected to Leeds Bradford Airport’s planning application. They warn that if the proposed expansion goes ahead, the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than the emissions allowed for the whole of Leeds in 2030 - making it impossible for Leeds to meet its net zero target. The scientists also criticise LBA’s own assessment for excluding key factors and dramatically downplaying the airport’s emissions. They describe LBA’s assessment as “starkly inadequate and misleading”. The lead author of the objection is Professor Julia Steinberger, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which advises the United Nations.

The University experts calculate that if the airport expands, it would create 1,227 kilotonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. Thats more than the maximum of 1,020 kilotonnes allowed for the whole of Leeds in 2030, based on Leeds City Council’s own carbon reduction targets. The University researchers say that while LBA publicly portrays the expansion as climate-friendly’, it is the polar opposite.

Last year, Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency and pledged to work towards net zero emissions in the whole city by 2030. The climate scientists warn that if councillors allow LBA to expand, they would undermine that ‘net zero promise. The scientists also point out that Leeds cannot shift responsibility onto Westminster because the UK target for reaching net-zero emissions in 2050 leaves no space for any more airports to expand.

Professor Steinberger said: “The IPCC has told all governments that if we are to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, we must radically change the way we make plans and decisions about the future. We must rapidly reduce emissions in all sectors. LBA expansion would mean the opposite - it would increase emissions. In January this year, Leeds City Council accepted that expanding aviation is ‘fundamentally incompatible’ with reaching net zero emissions until flying itself can be made net zero. There’s virtually no chance of that happening before 2050. So I hope the Council will act on their own words and reject LBA’s planning application.”

Co-author Professor Paul Chatterton explained: “There is broad scientific consensus that failure to meet internationally agreed climate targets implies a high risk of catastrophic climate change. That means increasing frequency and intensity of floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, disruption to food and water systems, destruction of livelihoods, forced mass migration, with the risk of violent conflict. In short, it means crises that will be even worse than COVID. Allowing LBA expansion would speed up these crises, when we desperately need to stop them - so we have to stop this expansion. We have a duty to protect present and future generations.”

Co-author Jefim Vogel added: “The airport’s own emissions assessment has serious flaws. They only count half of the climate impact of each flight, and they generally only count half of all additional flights. In their comparisons, they even exclude all international flights. And they only count total emissions over 7 years, when Leeds City Council asked them for a 60-year forecast. When you include everything that ought to be included, it turns out that emissions from the airport are actually much, much larger than LBA claims - in some aspects more than 10 or even 20 times larger. LBA’s own assessment is therefore entirely unsuitable for evaluating the planning application. A rigorous assessment makes clear that the expansion is completely incompatible with Leeds City Council’s commitments and responsibilities.”

Co-author Dr Declan Finney stated: “The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment recommends that the priority for mitigating emissions from any development is to avoid them in the first instance. The implication for this expansion is clear: the best and only way to avoid these emissions is to reject LBA expansion altogether.”

The full objection can be found below.

FINAL Objection to LBA planning applicat
Download • 195KB

Additional Notes:

1) Aviation expansion and achieving zero carbon are fundamentally incompatible - and new technologies are not on the horizon: Leeds City Council “accepts that aviation growth and meeting zero carbon targets are fundamentally incompatible until such time as new technologies are developed.”* Leeds Climate Commission’s ‘Aviation Position Paper’ states: “In the medium to long term, there is some scope for technological change... However, the prospects for such innovations becoming widely adopted across the aviation sector in the short to medium term currently seem low - even if planes with new technologies became viable in the next decade, it would take many years for existing fleets to transition towards the new technologies. Given the nature of the climate emergency and the need to deliver deep reductions in emissions in the next decade, the growth of emissions from aviation therefore represents a major challenge.” Page 4 of Exec Board Climate Emergency report, 7 January 2020.

2) Wealthy minority take majority of flights: Leeds Climate Commission’s ‘Aviation Position Paper’ was published in December 2019. It states that the majority of UK flights are taken by a minority of better off people. 70% of all flights are taken by 20% of the population; 100% of all flights are taken by 52% of people. These ‘frequent flyers’ are on higher incomes - the wealthiest 20% take 40% of all flights. The full report is available here.

3) Leeds Climate Change Citizens Jury: the Jury was a group of 25 randomly selected Leeds residents, representative of the population of Leeds. They considered the climate change challenges facing the city and made recommendations about how Leeds needs to respond. Recommendation 9 was: “Leeds Bradford Airport expansion should be stopped; specifically Leeds City Council should not approve new road-building or selling land to develop… Residents should block expansion and be educated about the impact on the carbon footprint”. The jury also said that flying should be discouraged by measures including a frequent-flyer tax (based on income and number of flights and location) and by advertising holidays in the UK rather than abroad. The full report is available here.

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