Airports vs the Climate – how does the law rule in Europe? Episode 2

Airports all over Europe are under construction, renovation, and expansion. But the impact of this infrastructure on the climate are enormous. In this series, META looks at airports at the centre of the battle to protect our climate. This is episode 2.

According to Transport & Environment, aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is responsible for an estimated 4.9% of man-made global warming.

At the European level, the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) sets rules for aviation for all European flights as well as those coming to and leaving the EU. A taxation was at one point considered, but because of protest and resistance from airlines/carriers outside the EU, it was decided to pause the incoming and outgoing flights requirement to pay, this is called “stop the clock”.

As no real regulation has been put on global air traffic, carefully assessing the construction of new airports or extension of existing ones is the best way we have to control CO2 emissions from aviation.

Global CO2 emissions from air traffic are expected to rise up to 22% of total CO2 emissions by 2050.

Airport related projects are regulated by European laws and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) or Strategic Environmental Assessment are required. EIA and SEA are an assessment of how a project will impact the environment.

Notre-Dame-des-Landes – France

Notre-Dame-des-Landes has become incredibly famous in France since the failed construction of the Aeroport du Grand Ouest in the commune.

The project dates back to 1963, a time when climate change was not a mainstream issue and construction of airports was seen as real social progress.

The project was postponed by the economic crisis. By the time it came back under the spotlight 40 years later, opposition was already growing.

Many NGOs became involved in the project: APICA (Association Citoyenne Intercommunale des Populations concernées par le projet d’Aéroport de Notre Dame des Landes), Fondation Nicolas Hulot (FNH, today known as Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme), France Nature Environnement (FNE), Agir pour l’environnement and ATTAC.

They pointed out two majors problems: biodiversity and CO2 emissions.

The area where the airport was supposed to be constructed is a wetland teaming with biodiversity. It is one of the few remaining examples of this kind of a habitat in France. The impact such project would have had on nature in the area is incalculable.

APICA sent a complaint to the European Commission (EC) in 2014. It resulted in a formal notice to French authorities for their failure to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the site, followed by an environmental infringement case taken by the Commission against the French State.

A year later, the COP21 climate talks were organised in Paris when an agreement to try to keep the planet below 1.5C of warming was announced.

As the French government was developing strategies to protect the environment, it was also promoting the exploitation of the area, an inconsistency pointed out by the opponents.

Public opposition grew around the project and demonstration were organised. APICA led many of them, gathering up to 60,000 participants in February 2014 and in February 2016. The most recent protest received international support from groups and citizens based in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Belgium, the UK and Canada, according to APICA.

Finally in January 2018, the French Government officially announced that the project was abandoned, more than 50 years after the first proposals. Edouard Philippe explained that the opposition that existed among the population was the main factor that pushed the government not to follow the project called by the PM ‘the airport of division’. Climate change and the position of leadership taken by French President Emmanuel Macron took on this matter was also a factor.

What about now?

The ZAD (Zone A Defendre – Zone To Defend) installed in the area to oppose the construction of the airport, has now been evacuated and agricultural projects are going to be developed by some of the inhabitants of the ZAD on 140ha of the site.

74% of French population welcomed the abandonment of the project.

The Nantes Atlantic Airport will now be reconfigured, but this is expected to take some time to deliver.

Recently a demand to classify the ZAD as a World Heritage site was issued.

Feature images source: Wikipedia