On 2nd December 2019, the first day of the COP25 international climate summit in Madrid, Spain, an important new report was published. Degrowth of Aviation: Reducing Air Travel in a Just Way, examines a range of possible policy instruments and strategies for degrowing (contracting) the aviation sector. This is increasingly urgent as the climate and other negative impacts of aviation are set to escalate with as many as 1,200 infrastructure projects – new airport and expansion of existing airports – underway and planned. The report is based on a flight-free conference involving 150 participants attending in person and online, held in Barcelona in July 2019, along with subsequent discussions.
In marked contrast to a plethora of articles exhorting an undefined, generalized “we” to reduce flying the report is cognizant of the global context; only about 10 per cent of the world’s people, predominantly residing in the Global North, have ever taken a flight. Within this small proportion of air travellers is an even smaller minority of wealthy, hypermobile frequent flyers. The first chapter, Reducing Emissions, critiques and dismisses illusory ‘solutions’ of biofuels and offsetting (whereby airlines claim to reduce emissions by buying carbon credits) and the purported technofix of electrically powered aircraft. Biophysical reality necessitates degrowth of the aviation sector.
The second chapter calls for elimination of tax exemptions, specifically on aviation fuel (kerosene), air tickets and VAT (value added tax), which enables aviation growth and subsequent environmental damage. Taxing aviation would boost the competitiveness of surface transport (road, rail and ship) and the resulting income stream could be used to support more sustainable transport. Chapter 3 looks at the potential of a frequent flyer levy or air miles levy to address the injustice of astonishingly high emissions from a tiny minority of frequent flyers, recognizing the complexities of tackling aeromobility inequalities within and between nations. Setting limits of aviation/flights is considered in chapter 4, focusing on capping or ending short-haul flights where alternative options exist, a measure which could constitute ‘low hanging fruit’ in climate mitigation and might lead to closure of many regional airports.
Chapter 5 proposes drawing a ‘Red Line for Airports’, a moratorium on new infrastructure and possibly scaling down established facilities. Hundreds of new airports and expansions of existing airports are planned and underway, many involving land acquisition resulting in displacement of entire communities. A Map of Airport Conflicts. shows more than 60 cases which have been documented and analyzed along with 300 cases which merit further investigation. Several of these airport projects are aerotropolis-type developments. Resistance against airport projects necessitates global networking, in order to avoid ‘nimby’ arguments confined to negative impacts on local communities; global solidarity spurs deeper socio-economic transformation. A number of examples of judicial processes which have successfully stopped or stalled airport projects are outlined: in Germany, France, Mexico, Bangladesh, Thailand and the US.
Chapter 6, Fostering Alternatives, looks at improving alternatives to flying, i.e. surface transportation, specifically shipping and rail. Decelerated societies, along the lines of the Slow Food movement, might be part of the solution and a comparable Slow Travel movement is emerging. The report cautions against uncritical advocacy of high-speed rail which is energy intensive, expensive and requires large areas of land. Similarly, expansion of shipping is not, in itself, wholly positive as emissions are growing and there is a high level of pollution from the heavy oil that is used. Alternative propulsion, not using fossil fuels, is already operational for some small ferries and some examples of ships powered by wind, solar and hydrogen are listed. A shift towards slower travel and surface transport could work synergistically with improvements in and increased uptake of video-conferencing technology.
Chapter 7 examines changes in the travel policies of institutions: academic and research organizations along with municipalities, cultural, public and business organizations. Flights are the largest contributor to many of such organizations’ carbon footprints so action on this issue offers the opportunity to become climate leaders. Telephone and online conferences can bring a major reduction in travel for work. In addition to obviating the need to travel through use of videoconferencing and other technologies organizations can take measures to reduce emissions from travel, such as encouraging train journeys as an alternative to flights, allowing more time for this travel which can be used for work projects.
Each of the chapters consider obstacles and disadvantages for the proposals, opening up future debate and discussions and a final chapter summarizes the report. Visit the Stay Grounded website to view and download the in-depth 52 page report along with a briefing paper, chapter summaries and illustrations. There is also a short video introducing the report, featuring some of the participants in the July 2019 DeGrowth of Aviation conference.
A new report shows that the aviation industry’s claims of ‘green growth’ are illusory. Biofuels to replace conventional kerosene, schemes purporting to ‘offset’ emissions and ‘green’ airports all fail to curb growing climate change impacts.
Climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, the most carbon intensive form of transport, are rising rapidly. Under current growth projections, with construction of new airports, expansion of established airports, expansion of the aircraft fleet and anticipated increase in the number of air passengers and flights, aviation’s emissions are anticipated to increase between four- to eight-fold by 2050. The aviation industry, led by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) promotes an image of ‘green’ growth through technological innovation, new fuels and offset schemes which purport to compensate for increasing aviation emissions through support for reductions in other sectors.
A new report, The Illusion of Green Flying published by Finance and Trade Watch, analyzes and debunks these aviation industry’s claims of ‘green’ growth. Illustrating the expected trajectory of aviation growth, the report begins with a map showing the 423 new airports that, according to aviation industry consultancy CAPA (Centre for Aviation), are planned and under construction, along with an estimated 121 additional runways.
The report shows that the minor efficiency gains and emissions reductions will barely scratch the surface of the massive increase in emissions that is looming with the projected aviation growth rate. A drive to replace conventional petroleum-derived aviation fuel with biofuels threatens to fill up plane’s fuel tanks with much needed food crops, not as yet nonviable biofuels derived from non-food sources such as algae. In addition, aviation biofuels are not climate-friendly as the total emissions, once the supply chain from cultivation, processing and transportation is factored in, can be even higher than from oil-based aviation kerosene.
Avoiding taking measures to reduce emissions, the aviation industry pursues offsetting schemes which merely provide a license to pollute, effectively attempting to outsource its emissions to other industries. Land based offset projects involving forests are particularly problematic as carbon storage in forests over long term periods cannot be reassured and, as the main agents of large-scale deforestation continue to wreak destruction, access to forests is restricted for people depending upon it for their livelihoods. Schemes to offset biodiversity proceed on the erroneous assumption that destruction of a unique, complex habitat can be compensated for by nature protection in a different location. Airports are promoted as ‘green’ or ‘carbon neutral’ by means of accreditation schemes that incorporate measures such as more energy-efficient airport operations and carbon offsets. These schemes, heavily promoted to air passengers, conveniently exclude and detract attention from the 95% of emissions which result from the actual flights.
The report also considers other aviation issues. A raft of subsidies (such as fuel tax exemptions and subsidies to aircraft manufacturers and airlines) makes flying artificially cheap. Aviation has non-CO2 impacts such as aircraft noise and emissions of particulates, which have serious negative health impacts on people living under flightpaths. The inequities of flying are considered; only a small minority of the global population ever set foot on a plane and wealthy people take the vast majority of flights. Resistance against airport expansion is vital to prevent inflated projections of aviation growth, used by the industry in lobbying for government support for expansion, becoming a reality. An ‘infrastructural lock-in’ is looming. Once airports are built or expanded there is tremendous pressure to utilize these emissions intensive facilities, with yet more subsidies and legislative support to support its passenger and cargo throughput projections and ensure economic viability.
Tackling aviation growth requires systemic change of the global economic system, a just transition from fossil fuel dependency, cultural transformation and individual commitment to reduce high-carbon lifestyles. All over the world there is opposition to aviation growth and the report concludes with some ‘resistance highlights’, local campaigns in many countries including France, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia, and organizations working on relevant issues including biofuels, combating deforestation and promoting train travel as a more sustainable alternative to flying. There is also an Executive Summary outlining the main points of the full report.
The Polish government has approved a plan for a mega-airport and ‘airport city’ on a 3,000 hectare site. An area of farmland has been identified as a suitable location for the project.
On 7th November, the second day of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, the Polish government approved a plan to build a new mega-airport, called Poland Central Airport or New Central Polish Airport, handling as many as 100 million passengers per year. The project would result in a a major increase in Poland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Poland, host of the next climate summit, COP24, in December 2018, is already widely regarded as a climate renegade for its continued investment in coal plants, and had the dubious honour of being awarded Fossil of the Day award in Bonn, for its relentless efforts to siphon European Union (EU) funds for clean energy into subsidizing its ageing coal plants. Announcement of a major airport project makes a further mockery of the country’s commitments to address climate change.
The proposed airport site is in Baranów, a rural gmina (administrative district) 40 kilometres to the west of Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. The map below, commissioned by Polski Fundusz Rozwoju (PFR) in 2008 and included in an article published on 8th October 2017, about a meeting on the airport between representatives of the government and Baranów municipality, shows two areas identified as suitable for the airport project: a 3,421 hectare area to the north of the map and a larger 11,338 hectare area to the south. Another variant of this map was included in a 100 page document discussed at the government meeting which adopted the airport plan, Poland’s biggest infrastructure project in recent years, on 7th November. At this meeting it was confirmed that the planned location of the airport is the Stanisławów village area, near the southern boundary of the area identified as suitable for the project.
A map produced by GAAM shows the villages within the boundaries of the two areas identified as suitable for the airport project and the existing road and rail links.
A satellite image of the Stanisławów village area, confirmed as the planned location for the new central airport, shows the villages and small parcels of cultivated land that characterize the wider area.
A mega-airport, multi-modal transportation hub and an aerotropolis
The schedule for the new airport is for preparatory works to be complete by the end of 2019, then for construction to be complete and operations to commence by mid-2027. A mega-airport is planned, one of the largest in the world with four runways, initially serving 45 million passengers per year, rising to 100 million, a passenger throughput as high as the world’s busiest airports, almost as high as Atlanta in the US and higher than the current traffic levels at Dubai Airport and Beijing Capital Airport. A multi-modal transportation hub is planned, integrating the new mega-airport with existing and new road and rail infrastructure. Plans for the airport include a rail station and the project is also referred to as Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK), which translates as Central Communication Port. The proposed airport site is between Warsaw and Łódź, Poland’s third largest city, and a high-speed rail line connecting the two cities is planned. The A2 motorway running between Poland’s western and eastern borders is immediately south of the proposed site. Immediately north of the airport site is the rail line between Berlin and Moscow, via Warsaw, providing a high-speed service that commenced operations in December 2016.
The 3,000 hectare land area for the new airport is far larger than would be required even if the number of passengers meets the projection of 100 million per annum. A 3,000 hectare site is more than 50 per cent larger than the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta in the US which handles 104 million passengers per year. Atlanta Airport’s site covers 1,900 hectares and encompasses substantial commercial development including more than 200 concession outlets such as retail, food and beverages. The oversized proposed land area for Poland Central Airport could be linked to plans for an ‘airport city‘ or aerotropolis. A 1,200 hectare new city is envisaged, with hotels and showrooms. Under the government resolution outlining plans for the new airport legal and infrastructural changes to Baranów would allow for construction of business parks, conference centres, an exhibition centre and office complexes.
A government financed megaproject
The budget for the airport project, combined with the road and rail infrastructure, is estimated at between €7 – 8 billion. Polish citizens will bear the brunt of the enormous cost of the project; the main investor is the government. The 7th November 2017 resolution announcing construction of the airport approved the financing structure as well as the location. An article in the second 2017 edition of Airport Development News, an industry newsletter published by Airports Council International, stated that two state-owned financial institutions, Polish Development Fund (Polski Fundusz Rozwoju – PFR) and Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK), Poland’s national development bank, would be ‘heavily involved’ in financing the project.
Possibilities for European funding have been considered. The Airport Development News article states that between 75 and 80 per cent of airport construction will be financed by international institutions such as the EIB (European Investment Bank) and EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). Such investment by the EIB and EBRD is doubtful as state aid rules preclude allocation of EU funds for construction of the airport. But a June 2017 article published by legal analyst firm Lexology stated that EU funds could be tapped for the road and rail elements of the project. The total cost of the rail infrastructure elements of the megaproject complex is estimated to be between €1.89 billion and €2.1 billion, the total cost of roads and highways between €424,000 and €1.6 billion.
Uncertainty over accessing EU funds has led to attempts to secure financing from Chinese sources. The airport was one of the vast transportation and energy infrastructure projects discussed at the May 2017 Summit of the Belt and Road in China, where the President of China repeated assurances about new credit lines by China Development Bank and China Exim Bank, and one of the outcomes was signing of a contract between Polish and Chinese state railways on facilitating container transport. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral financial institution supporting construction of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, is reported to have expressed an interest in co-financing the Poland Central Airport project, if it is in line with the bank’s policy of promoting ‘interconnectivity’ between continents, which would mean that the airport would have to promote passenger traffic with Asia. Potential benefits to Chinese exporters from the airport are evident. The project would support the Polish government’s intention to establish the country as a port of entry for Chinese goods into the EU single market.
Industry experts doubt feasibility of the new airport
Some industry experts are critical of the new airport, doubtful that a new global hub could compete with established European hub airports such as Schiphol and Frankfurt and saying that it would struggle to meet its traffic projections and fail to make a profit. And adoption of Poland Central Airport as a government priority reverses many years of sloughing huge sums of public money into several new small regional airports. A major new hub airport would compete with these regional airports, many of which are already struggling with low passenger levels and unprofitable. Some industry experts warn that opening a new hub airport would be likely to lead to the closure of several existing Polish airports.
Expenditure on a new airport that results in closure of established regional airports would be an astonishing waste of public funds. Between 2007 and 2015 Poland sank at least US$1.58 billion into building and expanding 14 regional airports, with 40 per cent of this funding coming from the European Union (EU). This was highlighted in a report Flights of fancy: A case study on aviation and EU funds in Poland published in 2012 by CEE Bankwatch Network which critiqued the development and operation of small regional airports which were not financially viable, placing a strain on regional and local government budgets, along with allocation of EU funds for rail connections to airports, arguing it should be redirected to serving mobility needs within regions.
Aviation industry consultancy CAPA (Centre for Aviation) reports that Poland Central Airport would replace Warsaw Chopin Airport, the city’s main airport located south of the city with limited room for expansion. Bloomberg also reports that, under the government plan for the new airport, Warsaw Chopin Airport would eventually be shut down. Closing Warsaw Chopin Airport would be a woeful example of enormous waste of public funds and short-sighted planning. A major, multi-million Euro programme of upgrades to Warsaw Chopin Airport, increasing its capacity to 10.4 million passengers per annum, was completed less than a year ago, in December 2016. The terminal was modernized including installation of new check-in desks and an observation deck, a new long-range fuel pipeline constructed and the runways, taxiways and apron have been upgraded. The airport upgrade programme cost €166,760,000 with the EU Cohesion Fund contributing €32,900,000.
Rafal Milczarski, CEO of Poland’s state-owned carrier, LOT Polish Airlines, has said that Warsaw Chopin Airport should be closed down and the land sold to real estate developers to help finance the new airport. This would certainly benefit LOT, a leading proponent of the central airport. Indeed, supporting growth of the national airline is part of the rationale for the project. But the role of LOT in the new airport is a factor in skepticism regarding its viability. LOT is a relatively small carrier with fewer than ten wide-bodied aircraft. A high level of investment would be required for LOT to become one of Central Europe’s main carriers, one of the goals of the the airport project. Critics are of the opinion that the LOT lacks the scale and financial capacity necessary for commercial viability of the new airport project. LOT Polish Airlines also has a history of government intervention to support ailing finances. The carrier was a direct beneficiary of state funds in 2012-2014 when it was rescued from bankruptcy with a €200 million state bailout.
There are serious doubts over the viability of the Poland Central Airport project. The only certainties are vast public expenditure on infrastructure and loss of a large area of farmland.
New airports, and expansion of existing airports, frequently entails displacement of communities and loss of farmland and the report documents land rights struggles relating to 25 airport projects. Planners often hone in on forested land as an alternative to the use of agricultural land for airport projects.
Aviation expansion in Indonesia is integrated with other megparojects such as multi-lane highways and sea ports, and linked to new Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These areas are designated for industrial and tourism development, provided with surface transportation networks and other supportive infrastructure and lavished with tax breaks and other incentives. Several SEZs have been bestowed with long stretches of coastline boasting white sand beaches, natural assets that are a cornerstone of tourism.
There are many plans for aerotropolis-style development, including around two airports currently under construction in Java – Kulon Progo and Kertajati – in the face of vigorous and long standing resistance from communities being forced to leave their homes and productive agricultural land. A number of aerotropolis plans are integrated with development of tourist resorts that aspire to become aviation dependent destinations in their own right. The report accompanies GAAM’s digital map which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images.
Since the report went to print plans for a new airport in the Seribu Islands (Thousand Islands) off the coast of Jakarta have been announced. This appears to be a scheme for tourism oriented aerotropolis style development as the Jakarta administration has stated that the winner of the tender will be permitted to build resorts near the airport, and will be provided with incentives.
For paper copies of the report, please contact: Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: email@example.com.
A group of CSOs (civil society organizations) have taken action to help raise awareness of and influence the United Nations tourism agenda. The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017) to promote tourism’s role in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Civil society groups have long voiced concerns over tourism growth that, through its aviation dependency, is fossil fuel dependent, and is a key driver of land grabs displacing communities and destroying ecosystems. GAAM joined a number of CSOs in issuing a joint statement criticizing the current global tourism and development model. Entitled ‘Tourism, Urgent Appeal for Harm Avoidance’, the statement was issued on 22nd May, the International Day for Biodiversity which was marked this year on the theme of ‘sustainable tourism’. The statement was issued by: International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Investigation and Monitoring Team (Tim-Team), Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), Third World Network (TWN), Consumers Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), and Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF).
An article by Friends of the Earth International International Day for biological biodiversity: celebrate by protecting biodiversity, not promoting tourism critiques the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) for using the International Day for Biodiversity to promote tourism and mentioning the need to reduce its negative impacts, but failing to recognize that many so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ projects, fail host communities by denying them revenue generation and self-determination. In the worst cases indigenous peoples are evicted to make way for resorts. FOE calls for tourism policies that protect ecosystems and the rights of local communities, calling for celebration of International Biodiversity Day by challenging the dominant tourism business model.
Aviation is one of the most rapidly growing sources of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions and a press release from the Global Forest Coalition Aviation Emissions Under Scrutiny On Sustainable Tourism Day raises the issue of proposals to offset these emissions, which were discussed at last week’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany. Instead of reducing its emissions the aviation industry seeks to offset them with monoculture tree plantations which are a threat to biodiversity and local communities. The plantations destroy natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.
Tourism was on the agenda at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. The draft Cancun Declaration recognizes that tourism, a major sector in the global economy, is dependent upon biodiverse ecosystems. A Third World Network (TWN) briefing paper, ‘Tourism at the tipping point: Governance for future generations’, preparedby Alison M. Johnston, Director of the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Canada, urges a precautionary approach to tourism growth, challenging the institutionalization of the industry as a ‘pre-approved enterprise’ which facilitates its expansion into remote areas, often damaging rather than conserving ecosystems and biodiversity. The paper highlights the role of aviation, the tourism industry’s dependence upon the petroleum industry, the impacts on indigenous peoples and considerations for future generations.
Resistance to aviation expansion and new airport projects is rising worldwide. This video of actions to highlight the damage to people and the environment – in the UK, Germany, Austria, Turkey, France and Mexico – was compiled by Austria based NGO System Change, Not Climate Change. It marks a wave of global action, under the banner ‘Stay Grounded: Aviation Growth Cancelled Due to Climate Change!’
Drawing attention to aviation’s contribution to climate change is timely. Publication of the video coincides with a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada, which agreed a deal which purports to curb aviation’s emissions of climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. This is urgently needed as the aviation sector is one of the fastest rising sources of emissions. But, under the deal, airlines will not face a cap or charge on their emissions. Instead, offset schemes will enable airlines to pay for carbon reducing activities such as forested area and emissions cuts in other industries. Aviation growth will continue and the deal will do little to reduce emissions. The aviation industry is not committed to aligning its long term targets with the 1.5°C – 2°C temperature increase limits of the Paris agreement on climate change, which has now come into force as it has been ratified by a sufficient number of countries.
The Stay Grounded actions around the world conveyed serious messages of the damage of aviation expansion with energy and humour. In France an unnecessary new airport in Nantes threatens to destroy farmland, forest and biodiverse wetlands. Farmers and activists have resisted the project for 40 years. The 4,000 acre site is protected by the ZAD (Zone a Défendre) community, which may be facing imminent forced eviction and has issued a callout for support. The video shows a massive march, dancing and dozens of carpenters working together to construct a building to form the base for resistance to eviction.
In Turkey, North Forest Defence has held a great many protests against destruction of forests, lakes, farmland and coastline for Istanbul’s third airport. Every day thousands of trucks move earth for preparation of the construction site. In Germany, campaigners hold demonstrations in Frankfurt Airport terminal every Monday to protest against expansion of the airport. A fourth runway opened in 2011 and construction of a third terminal began in October 2015. A planned new Mexico City mega-airport on the site of Lake Texcoco would lead to water shortages and a devastating impact on farming. Farmers have resisted an airport in the area since 2001, and suffered state oppression and violence. There was a protest on affected farmland and an academic forum and study visit. Campaigners opposing a third runway at Vienna Airport dropped a banner from a bridge over a highway, held a massive bicycle rally (one of the tandems is towing a piano), and there was a performance by a breakdancing polar bear.
A third runway is planned at London’s Heathrow Airport, where the Stay Grounded action included a critical mass bike block and flash mob and ‘die-in’ in Terminal 2. A privileged elite take the majority of flights and a frequent flyers’ check-in, with activists playing privileged passengers climbing over protesters, highlighted the inequities of aviation growth. Uzma Malik, an activist from Reclaim the Power, reflects on the protest, outlining some of the loopholes in the ICAO deal and details of the action such as the reading out of testimonies from people living on Pacific islands and in Africa whose lives are already being devastated by climate change.
Also in the UK, Gatwick Airport is planning a second runway. Stay Grounded protest took the form of a picnic in the terminal, accompanied by a bagpipe player. Below is just one example of the great photos taken by Rob Basto.
In Montreal, a press action was held outside ICAO headquarters by the People’s Coalition for Responsible Civil Aviation, drew attention to the greenwashing of the ICAO climate deal.
Also from Canada, a fantastic solidarity message from Land over Landings, a group which has resisting an unnecessary third Toronto airport on prime quality farmland in Pickering for over 40 years.
The ‘Stay Grounded’ global wave of action against airport expansion shows that local campaign groups around the world are linking up. Resistance against aviation expansion is gathering momentum. Connections and solidarity between groups resisting airport projects that damage local environments and communities – causing air pollution and loss of farmland and biodiversity – are strengthening. Building on this international solidarity is vital to tackling the global issue of aviation’s contribution to climate change.