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Public Would Pick Up £693 Million Bill for Cleaning Up Climate Damage if LBA Expansion Goes Ahead

One week after the government announced a public inquiry into Leeds Bradford Airport’s controversial expansion plans, a new report has calculated that the airport and airlines would be let off the hook for £693 million of damage to the climate that would result from increased carbon emissions if LBA expands. The analysis, published yesterday by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), finds that the aviation industry would only pay for 24% of the £913 million clean-up costs.

NEF’s analysis of new government guidance, issued in September last year, shows that the climate cost of LBA expansion has more than doubled. This is because the airport’s planning application was based on out-of-date estimates of the cost of the climate crisis. The analysis shows that Leeds City Council’s decision to approve LBA expansion was based on a very significant underestimate of the climate cost of expansion. As a result of the change in government guidance on ‘carbon values’, NEF’s analysis finds that the total climate cost of LBA expansion has risen to nearly £1 billion - less than a quarter would be paid for by the airport and airlines.

Chris Foren, chair of GALBA, said: “This report is yet more evidence that the Council’s decision to allow LBA to expand was flawed. Thankfully, the public inquiry will be able to take this new information into account. The main reason why some councillors supported expansion was because they believed the economic benefits outweighed the damage it would do to our environment. This report puts a big dent in the airport’s already exaggerated claims. While expansion would bring profits to the airport’s owners, this analysis shows it would leave a huge bill for the rest of us to clean up their mess - as well as causing massive damage to the climate we all depend on.”

He added: “This huge increase in the government’s carbon values means the decision to allow LBA expansion was made on the basis of grossly underestimated costs to the climate and our society. In essence, a colossal subsidy is being given to polluting big business and a debt passed on to future generations. As the majority of aviation emissions are made by a small number of wealthy frequent flyers, this is the opposite of ‘levelling-up’.”

In September, the government updated its ‘carbon values’ – the cost of cleaning up each tonne of emissions released into the atmosphere – to reflect the UK’s latest net-zero emissions target. As a result, short-term carbon values have more than tripled, meaning that the clean-up costs associated with infrastructure projects, like LBA expansion, are much higher than previously assumed. The government does not have a comprehensive mechanism for recouping these costs from the aviation industry. NEF’s analysis finds that the main emissions tax policy, the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS), is full of industry loopholes. The UK ETS exempts flights departing for non-EU destinations, exempts non-carbon emissions (which make up at least half of all aviation emissions), gives free carbon allowances away to airlines (equating to up to 82% of all emissions), charges a price far below the true cost to society of each tonne of emissions and does not take into account the updated carbon values.

Additional notes:

1) The £62bn carbon giveaway: NEF’s report can be found here.

2) The New Economics Foundation: NEF is a charitable think tank, wholly independent of political parties and committed to being transparent about how it is funded

3) Financial Times reporting: an article in yesterday’s FT quoted GALBA’s secretary and the barrister acting for GALBA. It can be found here.

4) How the calculations were made: greenhouse gas emissions that would result from LBA expansion are derived from the airport’s own planning application. NEF analysis calculates the total cost of emissions from expansion over the period 2025-2050 using carbon values released by BEIS in September 2021. Discount rates are applied according with the methodology recommended by the Treasury’s Green Book. NEF compared these costs against the same costs calculated under previous guidance and using BEIS 2020 carbon values. The traded cost (ie, the price paid by aviation sector businesses) is calculated using BEIS forecast traded carbon prices.

5) Turbulence Expected: for further information on the calculation of emissions costs from airport expansion, including the estimation of non-CO2 emissions, see NEF’s 2021 report Turbulence Expected: The Climate Cost of Airport Expansion

6) Expert policy advice: Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said last month, ​“There is not any space for airport expansion” if the UK is to meet its climate goals. The CCC’s policy recommendation is for ​“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”. That test has not been met, and will not be met for many years to come.

7) Public Inquiry into LBA expansion: the decision to ‘call in’ LBA’s planning application and hold a public inquiry was announced by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, on 19 January.

8) Climate science and LBA expansion: the Leeds Climate Commission and experts in climate science from the University of Leeds have calculated that LBA’s proposals mean greenhouse gas emissions from the airport would exceed the amount allowed for the whole of Leeds, as set out in the Leeds Carbon Reduction Roadmap, from 2026 onwards. See the report here.

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