‘GM council bosses renew push to reduce carbon emissions’; but forget about Manchester Airport

Manchester Evening News 3rd November 2015 “Greater Manchester leaders have renewed their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, with around 1,000 deaths due to air pollution in the region every year.  Town hall chiefs have set themselves [the target] of reducing CO2 emissions by over FIVE MILLION tonnes by 2020 – the equivalent of taking nearly a million cars off the road for a year.  They reckon the plan would prevent an estimated £1bn leaving Greater Manchester’s economy in direct costs to businesses every year.  But if nothing is done, the region stands to lose £20bn by 2020.  The project, by Greater Manchester’s Low Carbon Hub, aims to rapidly transport the region into a ‘sustainable low-carbon economy’.

Read more here. That sounds really great in transport terms: ‘the equivalent of taking nearly a million cars off the road for a year.’ But the test for any carbon reduction strategy in Manchester is: what does it say about the emissions generated by flights from Manchester Airport? Or does it, curiously but conveniently, just forget about them? That’s what Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council – owner of 35.5% of Manchester Airport Group – did at the AGM of Manchester A Certain Future on 7th July, until reminded, when he proceeded to defend them.

What does the new Climate Plan here – out for consultation here until 10th December – have to say about this tricky issue? First the overall context: “Over the period 2013-2020 [GM] emissions need to fall 5.15mt from 16.15mt to 11mt CO2e, over the 7 year period.”  But are the airport’s flight emissions included in these totals? No they’re not.  Does the strategy even mention them? Well the word ‘airport’ features just once – ‘Delivery of Metrolink line to Rochdale Town Centre 2 months ahead of schedule and to the Airport 12 months ahead of schedule’, thus allowing easier access to more flights; and ‘aviation’ also just once: ‘Recognising that air travel builds global perspective and is a major contributor to creating inclusive, aware and developed societies, significant steps to develop and deploy low carbon aviation infrastructure and fuels are needed to ensure that it is fit for purpose’ – so the standard aviation industry defence of emissions growth now greenwashed into a carbon reduction strategy!

Now what about the actual numbers? Manchester Airport’s CO2 emissions in 2010 were 2.2 million tonnes DfT Forecasts Annex G2 - therefore by now in 2015 they’ll be up to around 2.6m tonnes – and the DfT forecast has them increasing to 3.2m by 2030 Annex G1 As you can see that forecast is the usual DfT underestimate and the 3.2m number could possibly be hit not long after 2020. But Manchester Airport Group – of which the 10 Greater Manchester councils own 64.5% of the shares, and would presumably have received that proportion of the £77m dividend reported in the last accounts – is much more than that. Add in Stansted, East Midlands and Bournemouth airports and the combined 2010 emissions for MAG are 3.6m tonnes, forecast to increase to (and probably exceed) 7.1m tonnes in 2030. So an increase of 3.6m tonnes and 100% by 2030 (but probably sooner), whilst the Climate Plan wants to reduce all the other GM emissions by around 5m tonnes by 2020.

And the Plan quite properly understands the need to think even further ahead:”The UK’s long term goal of a minimum 80% cut by 2050, and legally binding UK targets for cuts by 2030, mean that we will also need to plan and act now for the longer term …  so we do not inadvertently lock ourselves in to a medium – emissions future, by only focusing on short term gains.” Accordingly it sets an objective:  ‘Develop and implement investment criteria for major assets and investments to ensure they are fit for 2050.’

But an 80% reduction from Greater Manchester’s 1990 starting emissions of 21.1mt CO2e  takes it down to around 4.2mt CO2e by 2050. By which date Manchester Airport flights on their own are forecast to be generating 5.3m tonnes CO2. So Greater Manchester’s entire 2050 carbon budget will be seized by the Airport, leaving nothing for anyone else. That looks precisely like ‘locking yourself into a medium – emissions future, by only focusing on short term gains.’

Clearly a cowardly but pointless attempt to pretend that Manchester Airport, its relentless growth ambitions and corresponding soaring carbon emissions don’t exist has the effect of crashing the GM Climate Plan. With little more than 0.5m tonnes of locally sourced carbon reductions actually identified for the period to 2020, and a a big yellow wedge, amounting to 1.7m tonnes,  described as ‘Unidentified Actions’  Greater Manchester Carbon Wedges figures 3&4 page 7  the Plan has apparently no analysis and no answer to what turns out to be its central policy dilemna.

So what needs to be done? Well first the Greater Manchester councils – there to represent all their people, not just the 15% of the population taking 70% of all UK flights; and all their businesses, not just one – need to confront the inevitable and unsustainable carbon consequences of their dominating pro-Airport growth agenda. And they need to resolve the conflict of interest whereby they claim to be trustworthy custodians of their citizens’ low carbon future whilst at the same time planning and hiding their intention to make that future so much worse. This is political hypocrisy on a grand scale.

Maybe they could stop the deception of omitting aviation emissions from their regional carbon budget, contrary to the accepted practice of the Committee on Climate Change? Maybe agree to halt the planned growth at both Manchester Airport and the other ones from which they profit? Not actually reduce their emissions – compared to the -48% reduction since 1990 that all other Greater Manchester businesses and households are now being required to achieve – just target a 0% increase rather than their planned +100% one. Perhaps these suggestions could be included in any consultation responses?

If they did this then the Plan can live up to its claim: ‘With global talks on climate change in Paris just weeks away, Greater Manchester has launched a consultation to ensure that its house is in order in terms of meeting its commitments to reduce carbon emissions’.