China’s government says airport expansion plans will ‘meaningfully offset’ carbon emissions — but will they?

The Sun, the largest airline in the world, has orders for 4,000 of them. And the planned, airport-based expansion of airports worldwide could see the fate of the world’s forests hang in the balance. The consequences would be potentially catastrophic, if we don’t tackle the ambitious expansion plans our cities are taking on.

Over the past five years, 31 major airports have been expanded or enlarged, with more to come. This increases annual passenger numbers by 30 percent, unless they come to a halt. The likelihood of doing so depends on conservation efforts. Wildlife habitat, in particular, is under threat in new developments, with plans to put factories, crematoriums and nuclear power plants near these protected areas.

When London’s Heathrow expansion scheme is finally completed, the world’s busiest airport, it will see a huge increase in passenger numbers, taking up over 1.2 million square meters of space. The BAA consortium behind Heathrow’s expansion claim the new runways and facilities will “meaningfully offset emissions,” estimating that the improvements will save over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. However, the International Air Transport Association — the airlines’ trade body — says that was “effectively the best scenario,” because it would require an increase in aircraft fuel consumption by 50 percent.

Wildlife, of course, would not be spared: The cost of air travel to the environment is itself costing $200 billion annually. Many campaigners, such as All Aboard Europe, have claimed the expansion plans as a chance to make aviation “a cleaner option”. However, “the world’s airports will, one day, grow, and for this they need a stable clean energy future to support them,” says the Campaign for Sustainable Aviation, and if current airport expansion plans are left unchecked, that future might not be very pleasant for any wildlife, either.

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