At the age of 57, after teaching about transport and climate change for ten years, I am now facing criminal charges for refusing to leave a protest which began outside the offices of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) in London. I have never done anything like this before. I am appealing for your help, to persuade the trustees of your pension plan to end their support for airport expansion, which is threatening to violate the UK’s legal obligations to cut carbon emissions.
You may have read or seen about the recent actions of Extinction Rebellion, blocking roads in central London. You may not have heard that on the first day of those protests, on April 15th, a group of us protested and blocked the roads outside the offices of OTPP. Your pension plan owns five airports across Europe, (as well as other companies dependent on fossil fuels.) One of them is Bristol, where I live. Bristol airport has recently applied to expand both its flight capacity and car parking to support it. It has longer-term plans to more than double passenger movements by 2040. This video, featuring young people from this area, explains why those plans are particularly unsustainable. London City Airport, also owned by OTPP, also has big expansion plans.
The Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK to reducing its emissions by 80% by 2050, which poses a problem for a government committed to expanding aviation. The government’s own Climate Change Committee has recommended a cap on aviation growth, keeping aviation emissions flat, while the rest of the economy has to cut more deeply – by 85%. But even that favourable treatment is not enough for the government and airport owners. Current plans will bust that cap, as the Committee has told the government.
And all that was based on the current targets. Following the Paris Agreement those targets are under review and are likely to be toughened. We are now on a collision course between airport expansion and the law. Unfortunately, the courts have only limited powers to compel governments to obey the law. Decisions made today will bust the carbon budgets in a few years time. By then, it will be too late to correct a disastrous mistake. As the reports of the IPCC make clear, the consequences of climate change include: sea level rise, desertification, extreme weather events, extinctions of species and mass migrations from areas that become uninhabitable. That is why we have reluctantly decided that civil disobedience is now needed.
I am heartened to see that in Canada, as here in Britain, school students have been demonstrating to demand more effective action on climate change. We owe them our support.
Did anyone ask you if you wanted your money invested in this way? If you are concerned about the impact of climate change on our students and our children, please email the board of your pension plan (politely) asking them to withdraw their support for airport expansion. If they cannot stop the expansion plans, then they should divest from airports, and other companies dependent on fossil fuels. Investing on the wrong side of history is not a smart move in the long-run. Here is a list of board members. The email convention seems to be: email@example.com.
Dr Steve Melia
Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning