Dublin Airport eco PR move ‘will be seen as greenwashing’

A Belfast professor has said the current airline industry is “simply not compatible” with protecting the environment, after Dublin Airport issued a PR release claiming to be “carbon neutral”.

Monday, 4th January 2021, 2:22 pm
Updated Monday, 4th January 2021, 5:36 pm
Professor John Barry

John Barry, formerly a leading light in the NI Green Party, made the comments as the airport touted its “extensive programme of activities to reduce and offset its carbon emissions”.

The airport is one of the biggest in the British Isles, and has a stated ambition of wanting to increase its passenger numbers from just over 30 million to 40 million annually.

Air travel is known to be a major contributor to global warming.

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For instance, America’s Environmental and Energy Study Institute (set up by a cross-party body of politicians) said last year that if aviation were a country, it would be the world’s sixth worst polluter in terms of CO2.

This is worsened by the contrails from jet engines, which it says also contribute to warming the atmosphere.

The institute concludes that “passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions, despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft”.

In its press release, Dublin Airport said it has bought cleaner vehicles, installed more efficient lighting, and purchased “carbon credits” (basically allowing the owner to continue polluting the atmosphere, on the understanding this pollution will be offset by someone else, somewhere else in the globe).

As a result “Dublin Airport has been formally designated as carbon neutral by the global Airport Carbon Accreditation programme” its PR people say, which adds that the aviation hub “is committed to minimising its impact on the environment”.

Professor Barry, a former north Down Green councillor and ex-leader of the Province’s Green Party (who works at Queen’s University Belfast’s School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics), said: “While this announcement demonstrates that the airline industry needs to address the climate crisis, what we’re missing is a serious conversation led by government about restructuring international travel completely.

“And this should include reducing, not expanding, airline travel.

“Nothing short of that is what’s required now if we are to avoid runaway climate catastrophe...

“Increasing fossil fuelled air travel is simply not compatible with a stable climate, and the solutions for the just transition of the industry lie not in technology and offsetting but in changing behaviour and the international travel system.”

In the absence of that, he said many people will view Dublin Airport’s efforts as “greenwashing” (an environmental version of whitewashing).

US-based space agency NASA says: “Over the past 170 years, human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 47% above pre-industrial levels found in 1850.

“This is more than what had happened naturally over a 20,000 year period (from the Last Glacial Maximum to 1850)...”

It links this to warming global temperatures, and to rapidly shrinking sea ice in the Arctic. One consequence of this locally is that just last month the government unveiled plans for £18m-worth of walls / barriers around the Lagan River and Belfast port to curb future flooding.

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