Action at UK airports targets “greenwashing” of aviation and calls for halting of expansion plans

by | 03 Nov 2021 | Actions, Members, Press Release

  • Stay Grounded UK co-ordinates events at 10 airports.
  • Part of global action days against greenwashing of air travel, organised by the international network Stay Grounded as part of the COP26 Coalition Global Action Days.

At 11am on Saturday 6th November, protests will be held against the planned expansions at 10 UK airports: Bristol, Doncaster-Sheffield, Gatwick, Glasgow, Leeds-Bradford, London-City, Luton, Liverpool, Manchester and Southampton.

Stay Grounded campaigners warn that no one should be fooled by attempts to ‘greenwash’ aviation. They say new technologies and ‘sustainable’ fuels will take decades to be used on commercial, long haul flights – and it’s these flights that cause the vast majority of aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The protests are part of the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, coinciding with UN Climate Conference COP 26 in Glasgow and organised by the Stay Grounded network.

The government’s advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, recommends NO net expansion of UK airports and has repeatedly warned the government that technological solutions alone will be insufficient to make the aviation sector net zero by 2050.

As climate demands rapidly scale up, the aviation sector and the government are redoubling their greenwashing efforts. Public relations campaigns spotlight improbable technological step-changes to legitimise the plan to jump back to pre-Covid growth levels. Ray Stewart from Stay Grounded UK said:

“We warn that trusting yet-to-be-developed technology to reduce climate damaging emissions is extremely risky. Instead we demand that immediate action is taken to prevent any expansion of flying and associated emissions growth. Just one return flight from London to New York emits as much greenhouse gas as the average UK household does in a whole year.”

Globally, the aviation sector plans to triple in size by 2050 – if this happens, we could see aviation fuel consumption and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, double.

“Any emissions reductions from technological developments will be eaten up by plans for expansion of the sector. Growth is the problem” confirms Finlay Asher, an aircraft engine designer now leading the aviation worker’s initiative ‘Safe Landing’. He added:     “That’s why no airport should be allowed to expand.” 

Aviation is one of the worst examples of climate injustice. Whilst a tiny minority – just 1% of the world population – are responsible for 50% of emissions from commercial aviation, more than 80% of the world’s population have never set foot on an aeroplane. In addition, the worst consequences of the climate crisis are affecting those who have flown the least.

Mira Kapfinger from Stay Grounded outlined:

“Instead of shifting responsibility to the international mechanism CORSIA, that heavily relies on greenwashed false ‘solutions’ such as offsets and so called alternative fuels – that will in turn lead to more exploitation of people and the planet, governments must take responsibility for aviation emissions in their Nationally Determined Contributions. Maybe, one day, we’ll be able to fly in large, long-haul, zero-emission aircraft but we know that’s not an option in the foreseeable future. In a climate emergency the only thing we can do right now to cut emissions from flying is to fly less”.

The recent UN climate code red IPCC report made clear that emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 to avert dangerous climate tipping points. Aviation’s envisioned technologies and fuel substitutes will come too late – even if the sector’s proclamations of step-changes in aircraft design are achieved, which is unlikely. Moreover, biofuels, e-fuels and hydrogen are not carbon-neutral and have adverse climate consequences. Producing them in the quantities required to power pre-Covid air traffic levels is unfeasible and attempting to do so would undermine other sectors and direct limited renewable energy resources towards the luxury travel habit of a tiny global minority.

 “It is key that NGOs, the press and policy makers don’t fall for this greenwashing. We all need to focus right now on reducing flights to a minimum and this means: finally taxing aviation fuel; taxing tickets (particularly long haul and business class); and shifting short- and medium-haul flights to rail”, concludes Mira Kapfinger.

Photo’s will be available on the day (Sat. 6th Nov.) from 12.30pm here:

Press Contacts:

Stay Grounded UK: Ray Stewart
Phone: +44(0)7708794665

Stay Grounded international: Mira Kapfinger
Phone: +43 6801451307

Safe Landing: Finlay Asher (Aircraft Engine Designer)
Phone:  +44(0)7984602404

Global Day of Action for Climate Justice: brings together movements from across the world to build power for system change with decentralised mass mobilisations. It is issued by the COP26 Coalition, the UK-based civil society coalition of groups and individuals mobilising around climate justice during COP26.

Stay Grounded: is a global network representing more than 170 member organisations, campaigning for a reduction of air traffic and a climate-just mobility system, including local and national airport and climate campaign groups.

Every UK airport has plans to expand: research published in February 2020 in Air Quality News found that every UK airport wanted to expand.

Further information

The government’s advisory body the Climate Change Committee recommends:- NO net expansion of UK airports.

The CCC has repeatedly warned the government that technological solutions alone will be insufficient to make the aviation sector net zero by 2050. 

  1. In September 2019, the Chair of the CCC, Lord Deben, wrote to Grant Shapps saying: “Zero-carbon aviation is highly unlikely to be feasible by 2050.”
  2. In the 6th Carbon Budget published in December 2020, the CCC called for measures to constrain increasing demand for flying as well as for the rapid development of new technology and alternative aviation fuels. They also said that international carbon offsetting schemes (specifically CORSIA) should not be used to meet the UK’s net zero target.
  3. The CCC reiterated their advice in their Progress Report to Parliament in June 2021. In the recommendations, the CCC said:
    1. “An assessment of the UK’s airport capacity strategy and a mechanism for aviation demand management should be part of the aviation strategy” (p32)
    2. “Government should not plan for unconstrained leisure flying at or beyond pre-pandemic levels in its strategy for airport capacity and demand management” (p72)
    3. “Government must recognise that planning for an ever growing aviation sector is not consistent with the UK’s Net Zero target as part of its aviation decarbonisation consultation and strategy” (p74)
    4. “Our advice from the Sixth Carbon Budget remains unchanged – there should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to outperform its net emissions trajectory. Government needs to assess its airport capacity strategy and develop and put in place a demand management framework to assess and, if required, control sector GHG emissions and non-CO2 effects” (p184).
    5. “The UK already has more than enough capacity to accommodate the demand increases in our Balanced Net Zero Pathway. Our advice in the Sixth Carbon Budget was therefore that there should be 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:
      1. Outperforming the net emissions trajectory means making significant progress on nascent and untested technologies like hybrid electric planes, and developing and scaling up markets for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and greenhouse gas removals.
      2. It is not possible to have certainty today over the pace of development of these technologies in future. It is therefore difficult at present to justify [airport] capacity expansion on the basis of outperforming the emissions trajectory, particularly given the uncertainty around the permanence of impacts on aviation demand from COVID-19.” (p185)
    6. “Priority recommendation: There should be 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. A demand management framework will need to be developed (by 2022) and be in place by the mid-2020s to annually assess and, if required, control sector GHG emissions and non-CO2” (p211)