Protest actions around the globe against aviation greenwashing during COP26
November 9, 2021

Stop Greenwashing – Reduce Air Traffic Now!

In the first days of November 2021, protest actions across the globe coordinated by Stay Grounded called for an end to aviation’s greenwashing and an effective reduction of air traffic. The diverse protests were part of the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice occurring during the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow (UK) and took place in Mexico, Nepal, Germany, France and the UK.

Aviation is the most climate-damaging form of transport and one of the worst examples of climate injustice. No one should be fooled by the attempts to greenwash the aviation industry. New technologies and ‘sustainable’ fuels will take decades to be used on commercial, long haul flights – and it is these flights that cause the vast majority of aviation’s  climate pollution.

As the Covid pandemic seems to be more under control in some countries (in many, not at all due to vaccine apartheid) and governments as well as companies are being forced to take climate action, both are redoubling their greenwashing efforts. Yet, research shows that technological innovation will not decarbonise the aviation sector rapidly enough to stay below the 1.5o C limit. We took to the streets to counter the greenwashing of the industry!

Why counter the greenwashing agenda of the air industry?

Aviation is the most climate-damaging form of transport and one of the worst examples of climate injustice. No one should be fooled by the attempts to greenwash the aviation industry. New technologies and ‘sustainable’ fuels will take decades to be used on commercial, long haul flights – and it is these flights that cause the vast majority of aviation’s  climate pollution.

As the Covid pandemic seems to be more under control in some countries (in many, not at all due to vaccine apartheid) and governments as well as companies are being forced to take climate action, both are redoubling their greenwashing efforts. Yet, research shows that technological innovation will not decarbonise the aviation sector rapidly enough to stay below the 1.5o C limit. We took to the streets to counter the greenwashing of the industry!

Actions taken

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30.10. Banner-drop to encourage people to fly less (Stansted, UK)

To coincide with the start of the COP26 in Glasgow, Stansted Airport Watch launched its “Fly Less” campaign. The group dropped two ‘Fly Less’ banners near Stansted airport’s entrance and exit. The banners remained in place for the duration of the COP26.

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31.10.-9.11. Celebrating the resistance against Frankfurt airport’s expansion (Frankfurt, Germany)

In Frankfurt, a series of exhibitions, guided walks, films, debates, a demonstration inside the airport and even a concert, celebrated the decade-long resistance against the devastating impacts of the major European airport, which led to successes such as a night flight ban. On the 6th of November, a concert with the title “Better Climate – Instead of Airport Expansion” took place which focused on the continuity of the protest culture since the struggle against Frankfurt airport’s expansion began in the 60s.

3.11. March and banners against greenwashing (Glasgow, United Kingdom)

“The illusion of green flying” was highlighted during the march against greenwashing in Glasgow by pilots and BAAN (the Bristol Airport Action Network) activists dressed up as ‘greenwash busters’ to bring their message about Bristol Airport’s endless greenwash to COP26. A BAAN spokesperson said: ‘The dream of low carbon commercial flight through electric, hydrogen, and sustainable fuels is going to remain a dream for many years. It’s total Greenwash to say that we can continue to fly and pretend we’re not trashing the planet’. At Glasgow Airport, activists protested with banners against airport expansions and aviation’s greenwashing.

4.11. ‘The green airplane will not save the climate’ support mobilisation for climate justice activists (Bobigny, France)

Around 50 people gathered in Bobigny, France, in support of activists who faced trial because of painting an aeroplane green at Roissy airport in March this year, to highlight the greenwashing and climate irresponsibility of the French government. Their trial was recently stopped due to the violation of their rights.

4.11. Exposing green lies (Glasgow, UK)

BAAN went to the COP26’s green zone and specially to Rolls Royce’s Transition to Jet Zero Carbon stand and took a photo dressed up in “Stop Airport Expansion” red t-shirts.

4.11. Solidarity with affected communities and denounciation of false solutions (Mexico City, Mexico)

The coordinators of indigenous Mexico valley organisations, CPOOEM, held a protest in Mexico City in solidarity with the Istmo peoples of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, who are being dispossessed and are victims of the destruction caused by wind farms owned by two COP26 partners, Iberdrola and ScottishPower. The action not only showed solidarity with different territories, but also denounced the false solutions to climate change, such as the construction of mega-wind farms, which follow the large-scale capitalist model of concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and dispossession.

5.11. A reminder to the Chancellor (Berlin, Germany)

Am Boden bleiben organised an action against greenwashing in front of the Chancellor’s residence to remind the future chancellor that real solutions are needed, not greenwashing.

5.11. Adbusting EasyJet greenwash adverts (Glasgow, UK)

Europe’s biggest airline, EasyJet, currently faces an investigation by the UK advertising regulator following complaints against its latest ‘Destination Zero Emissions’ advertisements. Campaign groups Adfree Cities and Badvertising accused the airline of misleading the public by using unfounded promises about future aviation technology to sell flights. Highlighting the issue at the COP26 protests in Scotland, climate campaigners from the Stay Grounded and Brandalism networks hacked over 50 bus stops ad spaces in Glasgow with spoof EasyJet posters. The poster artworks depict extreme weather events from summer 2021 with captions reading “Flooded landscapes from €14.99” and “Raging wildfires from €22.99”.

6.11. Coordinated actions against UK airport expansion (UK-wide)

The UK 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. Yet, every UK airport has plans to expand. For this and many other reasons, marches, rallies, samba bands, bike rides, tree planting, banner-drops and other creative protests took place all over the UK (18 events in total) against planned expansions for 12 airports: Bristol, Doncaster-Sheffield, Gatwick, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London-City, Luton, Manchester, Southampton, Stansted and Heathrow.

In Bristol, BAAN (the Bristol Airport Action Network) and the XR Landing Crew marched together during the COP demonstration.

 

 

In Sheffield, STEAP (Stop The Expansion of the AirPort) joined the COP26 rally with the Devonshire Greens outside the Sheffield City Hall as they will have the final say on approving or halting the Doncaster-Sheffield airport expansion plan.

 

 

In Gatwick, GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) mobilised concerned residents to stage a peaceful gathering near the airport to protest against the greenwashing by the aviation industry and call for a halt to Gatwick’s expansion plans. They met outside the Half Moon pub, Charlwood and walked to nearby Glebe Field to protest by the noise monitor. Peter Barclay, the Chairman, stated: “If Gatwick is allowed a second runway, its carbon emissions will increase dramatically.” CAGNE (Communities against Gatwick’s noise and emissions) organised an online protest with 40 attendants as Gatwick plans to bring its emergency runway into daily use, turning it into a second one. The campaigners sent a clear message against these plans. “One of the biggest instant reductions in carbon, greenhouse gases and air particles could be made by our government leading the way at COP 26, by stopping all airport expansion until aviation can be truly green;” said their Chairperson. 

 

 

In Glasgow, members of Stay Grounded took part in several COP events, and met at Glasgow Airport to highlight its planned expansion and the greenwashing going on there. Meanwhile, BAAN activists made a banner-drop and appeared dressed up as ‘greenwash busters’ again.

 

 

GALBA (The Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport) organised a small protest with a photo opportunity outside Leeds Bradford airport terminal with a banner.

 

 

Local groups in Liverpool were also present at the local COP26 march with banners.

 

 

HACAN-East (Heathrow Against Congestion and Noise), countering London City’s expansion, prepared a quiz about private jets which many official COP26 delegates used to travel to Glasgow. HACAN-East Coordinator John Stewart stated, “Our fun quiz has a serious side. It is intended to show just how bad for the climate private jets are. And, of course, London City is one of the main private jet airports in the UK.”

In Luton, a “Stop Luton Airport Expansion” event was held in the morning which was attended by around 60 people. The event took place at Wigmore Valley park: the park that the local council wants to destroy for the airport expansion. It is a 70 hectare wild country park, a public space owned by Luton Borough Council, but they licenced to their airport company, London Luton Airport Ltd. The latter are behind the airport expansion plans, spending millions of public money in the process. For some insane reason, the town’s climate emergency declaration does not include the airport.

 

 

In Manchester, activists put out an anti-airport expansion banner in the city centre.

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Southampton Airport eXpansion Opposition (AXO) arranged a day full of activities: samba, banners, photo, bicycle or train ride, a picnic and a COP26 online event. About 40 people who oppose the airport’s expansion plans gathered with their flying pigs and a banner saying “Green Aviation=Flight of Fantasy”, protesting against suggestions that planes will soon be eco-friendly and that now is the time to expand our airports.

 

 

In Stansted, Stansted Airport Watch organised a planting session on Saturday. The ‘Dig for Victory’ tree planting initiative (on the site of the proposed 2nd runway) was joined by many families, more than 20 people in total, at the “SEE wood”.

 

 

7.11. The youth makes aviation’s injustices visible (Nepal)

In Nepal, a youth protest at Simara Airport’s gate, in the Bara district, drew attention to the injustices related to air traffic. Over 30 participants from different youth clubs and civil society groups of the Bara districts distributed a document informing about their campaign to more than 100 passengers and organised a demonstration.”Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world due to climate change. Our campaign will sensitise local people, government agencies and the private sector to be more accountable and address the issues of injustice and the environmental crisis,” said Bhola Bhattarai from NAFAN Nepal.

9.11. Cross-party mobilisation against greenwashing in front of the UK parliament (London, UK)

Ahead of the Transport Day (10th November) at COP26, the community group HACAN was joined by a cross-party group of MPs and Peers outside the UK Parliament to call for an end of greenwashing for the aviation industry. Paul Beckford, HACAN coordinator, declared: “The reliance on future technological solutions and offsetting is simply greenwashing. There are plenty of policy initiatives, such as a frequent flyer levy, that could be delivered now to help reduce the impact of aircraft noise and emissions. Overflown communities and our climate deserve better.”

10.11. A memorial statue to technological solutions (Glasgow, UK)

To commemorate the tragic event of the IACAC declaration, a mannequin of Grant Shapps (the UK Transport Minister) with divine Icarus wings was erected by activists in the Cameron Memorial Fountain on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. In the Greek mythology, which the UK Prime Minister loves, Icarus is a story of a man who creates artificial wings by sticking feathers to his arms with wax and managing to fly, thinking he must be a god due to his ingenuity. However, he flies too close to the sun and the wax melts, causing him to plunge to his death. The moral of the story is: “don’t get overconfident and recognise your limits”. As true today as it was then, we can’t design our way out of everything using fancy non-existent technology. Let’s learn from Icarus and not “fly too close to the sun” (i.e. relying on technological solutions), but take immediate action to prevent aviation growth and cut associated emissions.

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