Unconstrained aviation growth is incompatible with the Paris Agreement.
The current proposals for Dublin Airport's new runway had set a finish date of 2021 and initial construction is already underway, including the clearing of large areas of hedgerows.
However, it now appears that the conditions under which the airport was first granted permission for the runway in 2007 have changed significantly: by the requirements established in the 2015 climate agreement.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) is taking legal action aimed at Fingal County Council, the authority which administers the Dublin region host to the airport.
Tony Lowes, the director of FIE, said: “The record shows that the chief executive of Fingal County Council was fully aware that the extra runway would result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, in contravention of the objectives of the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act.
“He also failed to provide satisfactory explanatory reasons for granting the extension to the original decision to allow a new runway at Dublin Airport.”
'Unconstrained aviation growth'
The aviation sector is increasingly coming under the spotlight as concerned citizens and environmentalists raise their voice in rejection of new airports and runways across the globe.
As part of its legal action FIE has drawn attention to the recent decision by the Austrian Federal Administrative Court to refuse permission for a third runway at Vienna Airport, on the basis of the negative impact it will have on the environment and climate change as a result of increased air traffic.
According to FIE's website: “The planned third runway is based on the scenario of unconstrained aviation growth and travel demand, which is incompatible with the Paris Agreement. It reflects an implicit assumption by Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), Fingal County Council, and the Irish Government that no steps will be taken to limit the growth in aviation.”
FIE itself was set up in 1997 by a group of environmental activists and town planners. “We felt that EU law, and particularly the Habitats Directive which came into force in Ireland that year, was not understood by local authorities, appeals boards, and the Irish courts themselves, who clung to their own supremacy,” explains Lowes.
The group’s efforts have not gone unheard. Lowes points out that FIE “currently has multiple cases continuing against the industry in the planning system and the Irish High Court.”
But what do Dublin Airport representatives say about the third runway? According to DAA spokesperson Siobhán O'Donnell “the development of the new runway will further enhance Dublin Airport’s economic impact, which currently supports or facilitates a total of 97,400 jobs in the Irish economy.
“The overall impact includes almost 16,000 people employed directly at the airport campus by DAA, airlines and other companies, the multiplier effects that flow from that employment, and the other sectors of the Irish economy that are facilitated by Dublin Airport.”
This is a perspective we can anticipate from airport spokespersons the world over. But is it really wise to consider these points alone?
Tony Lowes doesn't think so. “An economic model which relies on continued growth in the aviation sector does not factor in the cost to society of the impact of their activities in increasing the greenhouse gas burden,” he says.
“The agreed three pillars of sustainability as highlighted by the UN are are economic, social, and environmental., as set out in its Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN 2015.
“Social sustainability requires inclusion, but the environmental impacts of aviation exclude the most affected by climate change - those in poorer nations - from the benefits of the aviation economic model itself.”
'Absolutely committed to engaging with our local communities'
DAA highlights the fact that it is available to discuss issues related to the third runway with concerned individuals and communities. O'Donnell says that “we are absolutely committed to engaging with our local communities as the project progresses, and we are happy to meet community groups or on a one-to-one basis”.
But any public consultation won't take place unless members of the public come together and actively participate. This might involve contacting the airport or local authorities directly.
Whether concerns relate to noise pollution from aircraft, the direct destruction of lands and the ecosystems they host, or the existential crisis of climate change itself citizens have a right to their voice, and to question forced changes to the environments in which they live.
As for FIE's next move, Lowes is determined to make some real change. “The next step is to force the Irish State to require an Environmental Impact Assessment for the extension of time for the runway, 10 years after it was first granted and without any public consultation. If the Courts of Ireland do not require such an assessment, the EU Court will.”
*Dublin Airport Authority's website states that it is happy to hear your feedback concerning the new runway. The DAA and can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 1800-804422 (from the Republic of Ireland).
Conor Purcell is a Science & Nature Writer with a PhD in Earth Science. He can be found on twitter @ConorPPurcell and some of his other articles at cppurcell.tumblr.com.