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Response regarding the London City Airport Draft Master Plan

Today, Greenwich and Bexley Green Party sent the following letter to London City Airport opposing their plans for expansion.

Response regarding the London City Airport Draft Master Plan

To whom it may concern:

According to the available literature, in 2018 London City Airport served 4.8 million passengers on 80,000 flights. London City Airport predicts that there is a forecast for up to 11 million passengers by 2035 whose demand can be served by an estimated 151,000 flights. 

That is an increase of 89% in flights per year and is the central statistic that matters. We would like to make clear the incompatibility of the proposed development with addressing the climate emergency.

Let’s put some numbers on this.

For the analysis, we assume that a 2 hour short haul flight from London to Rome is a mean average representative flight and the mean average passenger count is 125 persons per plane. This may not be exactly correct, but it is directionally correct. 

The emissions of a one-way flight from London to Rome comprise 234kg CO2 per person excluding radiative forcing. 

In 2018, we can therefore estimate a total carbon footprint of London City Airport excluding ancillary airport business as 125 passengers per plane x 234kg CO2 per person x 80,000 flights per year = 2.34 billion kg CO2 = 0.00234 gigatonnes per year. 

Under the predicted 2035 scenario, making a generous 5% improvement in the energy consumption of each aircraft to achieve London to Rome at 222kg CO2 per person excluding radiative forcing, and identifying more densely packed aircraft we could estimate 140 passengers per plane x 222kg CO2 per person x 155,000 flights per year = 4.82 billion kg CO2 = 0.00482 gigatonnes per year. 

The science asserts that a further 180 gigatonnes additional CO2 emissions from today’s levels give us only a 66% chance of staying below 1.5ºC global heating, which is a target widely advocated as essential for avoiding natural catastrophe. It is clear that the massive amounts of additional emissions caused by the additional flights accelerate the depletion of the CO2 buffer that stands between a relatively stable climate and a rapidly changing one that will threaten life on Earth in severe and extensive ways. 

Presumably realising this, London City Airport assert that this expansion will be neutral on carbon emissions grounds thanks to efforts to make the airport “net zero emission by 2050”. 

The master plan’s Technical Note on Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions notes that “achieving carbon neutrality for an airport is in almost all cases impossible without external help. For this reason, London City Airport is examining options for carbon offsetting as the final part of the solution.” 

The concept of net zero carbon offset emissions is disingenuous waffle.

“Net zero” simply means that rich, developed businesses may push the costs of continuing business as usual by paying poorer, less developed economies to extend their wildernesses to support more absorption of CO2.  

Setting aside the moral concerns of this position, there is precious little scientific evidence either that a) carbon offsetting works, or b) that an effective global economic system around these ecosystem services can be put in place in the time remaining before burning through our CO2 emissions budget at our current – and literal – burn rate.

One need only look at the desperately poor health of Brazilian, Indonesian and Congolese rainforests, the impact to vegetation of drought in many regions of the world including Pakistan, Australia and the Middle East, as well as the lack of agency firefighters have in controlling record wildfires in the Arctic and the Americas, to conclude that we should not “bet the farm” on reliable carbon offsetting any time soon. 

In short, then, the overwhelming likelihood is that with this plan we will see a large increase in emissions driven by burning fossil fuels and satisfying elastic consumer demand that is completely incompatible with addressing the climate emergency.

We recognise that London City Airport provides work in a deprived area, achieves more onward journeys with public transportation than other London airports, and has made strides towards reducing energy use within the airport itself. We acknowledge that aviation is a part of modern society and do not foresee within our lifetimes any total ban on aviation. 

Nevertheless, the continued market-driven imperative to expand airports to meet limitless consumer demand for flights must be curtailed and – indeed – it is Green Party policy to impose a punitive Frequent Flyer Levy in order to bring about the required cuts in market demand for aviation.

Notwithstanding the impact on carbon emissions, which is enough to rule out any expansion, the negative effects of increased duration of noise are obvious and unavoidable. 

It stands to reason that noise reduction schemes only help while people are inside their homes with the windows shut. Greenwich and Bexley residents already tolerate a great many flights overhead to service both London City and Heathrow airports and there is no scenario in which adding more air traffic reduces the noise impacts that such flights have. 

We unapologetically declare our active opposition to the expansion of London City Airport in any shape or form whatsoever and – in particular – do NOT support the proposals for massive expansion of flights detailed in the draft master plan. 

On behalf of Greenwich and Bexley Green Party,

Matt Stratford, Coordinator, Greenwich and Bexley Green Party