BLOG Guardians of the Bays: You can’t have a Low Carbon Capital AND a runway extension


Our Co-Chair, Dr Sea Rotmann, made an impassioned plea to the City Councillors during consultation on the WCC Low Carbon Capital Plan the other day: “Please start taking this seriously, climate change is a reality and it is hitting us hard already. You cannot support an extension to the runway and claim that your efforts here are serious.”

Sea talked a little bit about her background as Environmental Scientists for over 20 years and how she studied anthropogenic impacts on coral reefs for almost 10 years. “I have witnessed the bleaching event on the Great Barrier reef in 1998, and studied one in Papua New Guinea in 2001. They were nothing compared to the massive bleaching and die-off of coral reefs we are witnessing right now. I was lucky enough to have done my Honours research on the most beautiful place in Australia, Lizard Island. Now, 95% of its reefs, some of the most pristine on the planet, are bleached and less than 50% will recover. We are responsible for the die-off of species on which 1/3 of the marine environment depend on, which have lived for 450 million years, and yet 200 years of our rampant fossil fuel use are killing them in our lifetime.”

Why do coral reefs matter to the Wellington City Council? Because climate change is a global phenomenon and everything is interconnected, particularly the ocean surrounding our fair capital. New Zealand already has one of the highest per capita emissions and the Council, despite valid attempts and claims to be serious, has also increased its emissions by 1.5% since its target goal of 3% reduction in 2013. It also managed to ignore all promises related to the airport and aviation emissions from its 2013 plan (must be 3 of the 4 out of 34 action points that weren’t implemented!?). Worse, the only mention of aviation in the 2016 draft plan is this, on page 10:

On the other hand, we have a major international airport within the city limits, so we are credited with the emissions of nearly all of the region’s domestic air travel. This creates multiple complex challenges – with less forestry we aren’t able to offset as much; and with aviation being a substantial contributor to our transport emissions, greenhouse gas reductions will be driven by the availability of international solutions for aviation such as biofuels or gains in aircraft efficiency.

So, from, in 2013 promising to: 1. Investigate emissions-reduction options under the proposed extension of the airport runway; 2. Develop an agreement with Wellington International Airport; and 3. Advocate for climate mitigation in the aviation sector, we have now gone to “Let’s wait and see what wonderful technology and international solutions will come up and press on in the meantime with extending the runway – with ratepayer handouts to a billion dollar company.”

But this isn’t all – our (formerly green) Mayor has taken it upon herself to regularly and publicly proclaim that the runway extension will indeed REDUCE emissions! Others have already pointed out the insanity of these claims, e.g. here. Sea pulled out the Council’s own reports to show why the Mayor’s claim that long-haul flights would have fewer emissions as people didn’t need to stop in Sydney or Auckland was completely moot:

InterVISTAs diversion
Note that this report also states:

at a market growth rate of around 2% a year, the AKL-WLG diversion could potentially be replaced in a year or less.

Now, we have heard at our last Council submission that none of the Councillors have read any of the reports for which they signed off $3m of ratepayer funding to the airport. This does not excuse not remembering this, very simple and illustrative slide that was shown to them by InterVISTAs in October 2015 during a presentation on the demand forecast of extra passengers:
InterVISTAS LT forecast
As the Dom Post pointed out, this is an increase in 16.1 MILLION extra passengers by 2060! A return flight NZ-Singapore is 3.54t CO2e per passenger, so this would make an extra 57 million tonnes (!) of CO2e on Wellington’s books, thanks to this proposal. The average car emission is 118g/km, so if you cycle for 10km into town instead of driving, you save a bit over 1kg of CO2e. That makes just under 1000 avoided car trips to town for 1 tonne saving and over 50 million (!) avoided car trips to make up for these extra passengers – although we’re pretty sure they’re not cycling to town either after arriving in Wellington, so those extra emissions would need to be added on top.

And yet it gets worse: Wellington’s current emissions from aviation are already almost as high as petrol emissions from land transport – and that excludes international flights!
Wgtn emissions
Seeing international flights are not accounted for, but add just under 25% of domestic emissions (which were almost 247tCO2e in 2012/13, or 19% of gross emissions), we get to almost 25% of Wellington’s emissions being from aviation – especially with the increased numbers of both domestic and international flights the airport has been reporting. This is BEFORE extending the runway and adding an extra 57 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to our books.

We applaud that the Council wants to “position ourselves as a leader on climate change and one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network” but it takes more than a few smart energy challenges and cycle ways to seriously work on becoming a low carbon capital. Because that is the only way forward if a city as exposed to sea level rises and increased storm events as ours, wants to safely make it into a new century.