Three months ago, Cornwall Councillors voted ‘almost unanimously’ to declare a climate emergency. In the supporting documents for the agenda item, the Council’s leadership boasted that it had already ‘shown foresight and leadership when it comes to addressing the issue of climate breakdown’. Within the next three months Cornwall Council has to produce a report spelling out how it intends to reduce Cornwall’s carbon emissions to the level required to restrain temperature rise to 1.5oC or achieve zero emissions by 2030. (These targets are not quite the same.)
It’s not clear whether councillors were actually aware of the implications of what they were voting on as there was little hard discussion of the technical details of Cornwall’s carbon budget. In order to assess what will be required a team of Cornish experts has been asked to collate the details of Cornwall’s carbon footprint in advance of the Council’s eagerly awaited report.
So what is the current state of affairs? The UK Government produces annual data on CO2 emissions by local authority, the latest available being for 2016. However, this excludes aviation.
Aviation is important for three reasons. First, its contribution to carbon emissions is rising, rather than falling. It’s been estimated that the 33m tons of CO2 emitted in the UK by departing flights in 2011 will rise to between 35 and 52m by 2050 (Cornwall Airport Masterplan 2015-2030, p.23). Second, greenhouse gases emitted by planes do more damage than emissions at surface. In 2001 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that carbon emitted by planes at altitude has a warming effect 2.7 times higher than the equivalent amount produced at surface. Finally, as Cornwall Council owns Newquay airport, this is one area where it has a direct responsibility.
Publicly available data on greenhouse gas emissions from Newquay airport is surprisingly scarce and hard to find. In 2008 a Greenhouse Gas Inventory for Cornwall and Scilly was published which included detailed data on the emissions from flights to and from Newquay airport. This amounted then to 15.25 ktons of CO2 a year. This was relatively small compared to emissions from road transport, but we need to know what it is now, ten years or more on.
In order to obtain more data on aviation emissions a freedom of information request was sent to Cornwall Council on the 22nd March. This asked three questions.
1) How many tons of CO2, CH4 and N2O were emitted last year (or the most recent year for which data are available) from flights to and from Newquay airport?
2) How many tons of CO2, CH4 and N20 have been emitted per year since 2008, which is the most recent year’s data I can find?
3) What are the forecast emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O from flights to and from Newquay airport over the next ten years in tons per year?
After waiting a month, an answer was received on 23rd April. This read as follows …
Cornwall Council/ Cornwall Airport Limited
- have no data available on CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay from last year.
- do not hold data on the CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions that have been emitted per year from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay since 2008. It is however expected that the CO2e (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay since 2008 will be calculated by Cornwall Council and Cornwall Airport Limited and then made public when the Cornwall Greenhouse Gas Inventory is updated during the 2019/2020 financial year.
- do not hold data forecasting the CO2e (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions for flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay per year over the next ten years.
Here is a local authority that proclaims its ‘foresight and leadership’ on this issue. Yet, it beggars belief that it holds no data on carbon emissions from its own airport. And let’s not ask why it’s taken 11 years to produce another detailed greenhouse gas inventory for Cornwall. A strange kind of ‘foresight and leadership’ that is so lackadaisical about monitoring the evidence.
At best this is incompetent; at worst downright complacent.
However, while Cornwall Council disclaims all knowledge of what CO2 emissions from Newquay are or what they are forecast to be, it’s not that difficult to work these out. Back in 2009 CoSERG produced a report that provided a detailed analysis of the then forecast greenhouse gas contribution of the airport. This spelt out the consequences for climate change a decade ago and can be downloaded below. It cites a consultants’ report that clearly stated CO2 emissions from the airport were forecast to rise from the then 16 ktons to 57 ktons by 2030 (Carbon Impact Study, ENTEC, 2008), a four-fold increase.
Although the Council is apparently unable to produce data on actual CO2 emissions from its own airport, it’s also not difficult to come up with an estimate. Annual statistics of aircraft movement are available from the Civil Aviation Authority. These report that activity has risen fourfold at Newquay since 2008, although with a fall to 2012 and then a sharp rise.
Assuming that a small increase in efficiency has been offset by more high level flights, we can therefore expect a four-fold increase or thereabouts in emissions. That’s to around 60 ktons a year at present. This implies that carbon emissions from Newquay airport have already reached the level being forecast for 2030 and are on target to overshoot that by a wide margin on current trends.
The fact is that Newquay airport must have the detailed data on emissions and even if they don’t it wouldn’t take that long to calculate them. So the question becomes why isn’t Cornwall Council doing more to collate and publicise the evidence on an annual basis. Failure to do so suggests a dereliction of duty which sits very uneasily with claims to ‘foresight and leadership’ on the issue of climate change.