At the start of 2023, Manchester Airport Group presented at the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny committee. As CEM prepares for February scrutiny and a new campaign (it’s time), we first wanted to log this half hour of dangerous techno-fantasy. It typifies a wider disconnect between plans and reality, and an utterly broken format.
Recap: one year and a misleading strategy on.
As a quick recap, Manchester Airport Group (indeed the very same head of Corporate Social Responsibility) last presented at ECCSC in January 2023. MAG also spoke at the ECCSC in December 2021 and then Economy Scrutiny Committee in March 2022 in a presentation focused on the airport’s contribution to the city coffers (in doubt after Covid). For these meetings, CEM and supporters published an accompanying report, with three recommendations: 1) a moratorium on airport expansion; 2) a more just budget for aviation, and 3) more transparent disclosure to risks on MCC’s budget (following the huge bailout of 2020 and because further investment in the airport is an environmental risk).
The then scrutiny chair summarised these points and the questioning from councilors began to pick at contradictions between the city’s climate pleasures and the appetite for flying. However, in a ‘turkeys won’t vote for Christmas’ situation these meetings confirmed that there was not the slightest chance that MAG wanted limit flying.
Since then, a series of scandals (flying empty ‘ghost’ planes just to keep slots, hours of delays in baggage control) has put the industry even more firmly on the defensive. In July, the government launched ‘Jet Zero: our approach for achieving net zero aviation by 2050’. If you think the title is naff, the product of a smug strategy meeting, then the document itself is much worse: take your pick from deluded, dangerous or downright illegal. So blatantly so that the government is being taken to court… twice.. Two separate judicial reviews have been lodged by campaign groups Possible and GALBA (Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport).
Unchallenged pitch for limitless flying
The presentation from MAG followed the Jet Zero playbook to the letter. We could have played bingo with the roll call of things that save us: sustainable aviation fuel, hydrogen aircraft, vegan baggage handlers (OK, the last was not explicitly mentioned…). You can fly, or even fly more, when these are in place. Indeed, MAG’s shtick is not just to sign up to the strategy but to position itself as, you guessed it, a leader in these technologies – the majority of which are not yet proven at the necessary scale.
But the shaky runway on which MAG’s case rests was not tested on this occasion. So often we hear Manchester scrutiny committees flailing back on (justified) critiques of national government. Yet here a flawed government plan, amplified by industry, was here taken as read. This, in the same as Grant Schapps equating hydrogen flight with a zero calories cake. You don’t need any technical knowledge to sense that this is all too good to be true.
MAG’s presentation was preceded by a few slides from the Manchester Climate Change Agency, setting out their principles: precautionary, urgency, equity. That’s all very well, but it was difficult to see how they directly related to what follows. MAG is a member of the Manchester Climate Change Partnership, but it’s hard to know what this means, and what is different as a result. And why do we not then get promotional presentations from other members of the partnership? Why does only one get free airtime to set out its ‘no behavior change necessary; vision of the future?
At the very least, the next greenwash half hour like this needs some figures. Questions that tried to make a case for justice (targeting those who fly the most) were stymied by the lack of data. Councillors were clear that residents should not be punished for ‘taking one holiday a year’ but frequent flier levies don’t kick in for just one trip. Moreover, the MAG reps suggested that most flights out of Manchester are for business anyway (another point made without the figures to hand).
The most sanguine comments came from a short wrap up by leader Bev Craig, who had been sitting in Economy class at the back of the room throughout. She at least raised the point that discussions about flying (how we get to where we want to be) need to be brought together with the parallel discussions about rail and transport infrastructure. A reliable train service is a great incentive for flying less and more feasible than SAF. But once again, there was no chance of making progress in the set up of this committee, with this broken format.
If you’d like to support or connect with others taking action on Jet Zero and UK airports, check out GALBA
And stay tuned for more from us on what you can do closer to Manchester…