Luton Airport to become 'most sustainable airport' by 2040

London Luton Airport has revealed an intention to become the UK's "most sustainable airport" by 2040, claiming that a planned expansion can be delivered in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

The Airport claims it has been working since the recent Heathrow court ruling to examine how the expansion can be deliver in line with the Paris Agreement

The Airport claims it has been working since the recent Heathrow court ruling to examine how the expansion can be deliver in line with the Paris Agreement

The council-owned London Luton Airport company is yet to outline specifics of the sustainability ambition, but claims that a low-carbon expansion of the airport can play a supporting role in delivering a green economic recovery from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in the region.

A Development Consent Order application to outline the expansion of the airport from 18 to 32 million passengers per year is set to be submitted to the Government next year.

Cllr Andy Malcolm, who is chair of airport's company and also Luton Council’s portfolio holder for finance, said: “We are an airport owner entirely focused on supporting and improving people’s lives, and driving economic and employment growth, both in Luton and neighbouring communities.

“Since the second public consultation on our expansion proposals late last year, we have been listening carefully to feedback and a clear message that people want us to go even further to mitigate environmental issues, including noise, air quality and particularly climate change which has become significantly more important to people since our first consultation. We are also acutely aware that Covid-19 has sadly impacted on every area of people’s lives and wellbeing, and the effects on aviation have been stark.”

The Airport claims it has been working since the recent Heathrow court ruling that has temporarily blocked the expansion on climate grounds to ensure that London Luton Airport will meet the terms of both the Paris Agreement and the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change.

The Airport adds that since 2013, the airport has delivered an additional £21m in annual revenue for the local council.

The Airport’s chief strategy officer Graham Olver added: “Our work will be crucial to support Luton Council’s target to deliver a zero-carbon town by 2040, significantly ahead of the government’s target for the UK as a whole.

“We know a key ingredient will be to work with many partners including the council, highways authorities and public transport providers on an integrated and sustainable public transport system serving the area around the airport.”

Net-zero airports

There is a longstanding debate as to whether airports seeking to expand capacity can do so in alignment with the Government’s net-zero commitment.

In February, the Court of Appeal upheld the challenge issued by environmental groups, concluding that the Government's Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was “unlawful” due to climate grounds, notably that it didn't align to the needs of the Paris Agreement. As such, the Heathrow Airport expansion is now at risk.

The High Court was told last year that the UK’s ability to reach its 2050 aviation emissions already required other industries and sectors to reduce emissions by 85%, which was “at the limit of what is feasible…with limited confidence about the scope for going beyond this”.

Nevertheless, airports are embracing the net-zero transition. Heathrow Airport intends to become a zero-carbon airport by the mid-2030s, after reaching carbon-neutral status for its buildings and infrastructure.

Gatwick Airport’s sustainability targets expire this year, but the airport is targeting a 50% reduction in carbon emissions.

Elsewhere, Birmingham Airport has set a commitment to become a net-zero carbon airport by 2033, noting that it has a "big opportunity" to reduce emissions via onsite renewable generation and would also minimise the use of carbon offsets.

Birmingham Airport has set a commitment to become a net-zero carbon airport by 2033, noting that it has a "big opportunity" to reduce emissions via onsite renewable generation and would also minimise the use of carbon offsets.

As part of plans to make its own operations carbon-neutral by 2025, Bristol Airport is switching to 100% renewable electricity.

Also included in Bristol Airport’s plan for carbon-neutrality is the installation of more electric vehicle (EV) charging points before the end of 2019; the offsetting of all emissions generated through passenger travel to and from the airport beginning in 2020; and new measures to reduce engine use on-ground by 2023.

However, the plan to expand Bristol airport has been rejected following protests that it would exacerbate the climate emergency.

All airport decarbonisation plans support the UK aviation industry’s wider commitment to become a net-zero sector by 2050.

Luton’s announcement comes as the European Commission has agreed to call for changes to the UN’s aviation emissions offset scheme. Under the system, the aviation sector would have to reduce emissions against a 2020 baseline, but with the coronavirus pandemic severely limiting global travel and associated emissions, the Commission, as well as airline companies, wants to move the baseline to 2019 levels.

Matt Mace



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