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Marseille’s airport expansion plan could become the first victim of climate legislation

A plane flies over the Etang de Berre as it prepares to land on the tarmac of Marseille Provence Airport in Marignane, southern France
Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier
A plane flies over the Etang de Berre as it prepares to land on the tarmac of Marseille Provence Airport in Marignane, southern France, June…
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Marseille is France’s second largest city and a huge attraction for tourists. In a bid to satisfy growing demand, Aéroport de Marseille Provence (AMP), the company managing the city’s airport, wants to expand the hub.

But those plans are now in doubt. The French Environmental Authority, which is part of the country’s environment ministry, has ruled (pdf) that the plans need to be revisited in light of legislation the country passed earlier this year to set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. The environmental authority also said that the expansion application likely overstated the economic benefits and underestimated the environmental impact the project would have.

“The ruling shows the importance of setting net-zero emissions targets and ensuring they include international aviation,” Andrew Murphy, aviation campaigner at non-profit Transport & Environment, told Climate Home. “A failure to do so is essentially cheating the climate.”

The aviation sector’s emissions are growing fast. Without stronger regulations, air travel’s greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to more than double by 2050, according to the conservative estimates (pdf) of the International Civil Aviation Organization. In the UK alone, airport expansion plans are under consideration or have been approved at Ashford, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Heathrow, Leeds, Manchester, and Southampton.

Green groups have tried and failed to stop airport expansions in the past. In 2017, following resident’s complaints about noise and harm to the environment, an Austrian court blocked the expansion of the Vienna airport. The court cited Austria’s commitment under the Paris climate agreement while making its decision. That ruling, however, was overturned by the country’s supreme court earlier this year after the airport authority explained how it will manage noise and cut emissions. It means Vienna will soon get a third runway.

The goals set under the Paris climate agreement by any country are voluntary and non-binding. But with legally binding targets, such as those set by France and the UK this year, coming in to play in many countries, environmental authorities might finally have the power to stop airport expansions.

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