Green campaigners slam Bristol Airport’s new carbon-neutral and net-zero targets

Project Acorn involved refuelling and powering the baggage tractors servicing easyJet passenger aircraft.

At a briefing on Friday (25 June), the airport announced that it is set to achieve carbon-neutral operations before the end of the year. It had originally set a 2025 deadline for carbon neutrality but has forged ahead with plans to improve energy efficiency, procure renewable energy and purchase carbon offsets.

That same briefing saw executives confirming a new net-zero target for 2030, covering airfield operations, buildings and the ground transport fleet. Many organisations, including the airport, differentiate ‘net-zero’ and ‘carbon-neutral’ in that the former requires reducing emissions in-house in line with climate science, while the latter can be achieved through offsetting alone or offsetting with in-house reductions to a lower degree.

Speaking at the briefing, Bristol Airport’s chief executive Dave Lees said: “The aviation industry is taking its responsibilities seriously in addressing climate change challenges, working together to create the solutions now and in the future.”

Bristol Airport is expecting to announce further details on how it plans to reach net-zero in these three areas in the coming months.

In the meantime, local green groups have expressed anger at the net-zero and carbon-neutrality targets, as they do not cover emissions from flights or from passengers driving to and from the airport. On the latter, the Green Party claims that more than 87% of passengers to have used the airport in 2019 arrived by car.

Bristol City Council member Cllr Carla Denyer, of the Green Party, called the new targets “an utter nonsense and a cynical form of greenwashing”.

Cllr Denyer said: “Of course any work to improve the airport’s climate targets are welcome, but to brand yourself as a ‘net-zero airport’ without including flights, car parking or journeys to and from the airport is highly misleading. The environmental impact of aviation is well documented but is something they seem unwilling or unable to talk about.”

Another Green Party member of the Council, Cllr Emma Edwards, added: “It was deeply disappointing to see the Mayor of Bristol at the announcement, offering support to this environmentally damaging operation. His comment that this represents the airport showing ‘leadership’ is baffling when he has been vocal in his commitment to Bristol becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The airport and its current plans to expand should be under the highest scrutiny by the council.”

Planned expansion

Bristol Airport first tabled plans to expand and increase its capacity by 30% in 2018. At the time, it had hoped that the expansion would be completed by 2025, meaning that up to 12 million passengers could use the facility annually, up from 10 million.

North Somerset Council rejected the expansion plans in February 2020 on environmental grounds.

However, the Airport has subsequently launched an appeal against this decision. While it has withdrawn the original planning request, citing the need to make amendments in light of the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation sector, an inquiry is now underway at the Department for Transport (DfT).

Aside from the Green Party, groups including Stop Bristol Airport Expansion, the Parish Councils Airport Association and Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) are all opposing the expansion. The plans do have some major supporters, however, including the UK’s biggest business group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The UK Government’s plans to publish the Transport Strategy and Net-Zero Strategy – both of which will further detail its long-term vision for decarbonising hard-to-abate methods of transport including aviation – have been delayed due to the pandemic. The Net-Zero Strategy is due this autumn, ahead of COP26, but Ministers are facing pressure from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to publish the Transport Strategy before Parliament rises for summer recess in July.

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Sarah George

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