Call for urgent health check on Wellington runway extension plans

30 April 2016

OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council is calling for an independent health check on Wellington Airport’s expensive plans to extend the runway into Lyall Bay.

Aviation makes a significant contribution to climate-damaging emissions – the average Wellingtonian’s footprint is 5.32 CO2eq tonnes annually with almost 20% from domestic flights.

“These emissions contribute to climate change, a leading global threat to health,” says OraTaiao co-convenor Dr Rhys Jones. “An extension of the runway would exacerbate this situation.”

Each additional flight, particularly international, adds enormously to our overall emissions footprint. For example, one person flying return to Hong Kong burns up 4.0 tonnes, and London return 7.9 tonnes.

“The world has agreed on a pathway towards zero net global emissions this century,” says Dr Jones. “Successful, thriving cities will be those who develop along this trajectory. The runway extension would take Wellington in exactly the wrong direction – for our economy and for our health.”

“At the moment we’re flying blind,” says Dr Jones. “Neither the airport nor the Council even know much the extension will increase emissions.”

“The only reference to climate by the airport to date has been the viability of the runway extension with increasing sea levels and extreme weather events. This ignores the high health costs to all of us from escalating emissions as the airport expects passenger numbers to double by 2030.”

“A health check on Wellington’s airport runway extension plans is urgently needed,” says Dr Jones.


 Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, Ph. 021 411 743, Email: [email protected]

Dr Rhys Jones(Ngāti Kahungunu) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate Climate and Health Council.


Open Access editorials in the NZ Medical Journal by OraTaiao, at:

Aviation causes perhaps near 4%-5% of global warming (through both CO2, non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, and altitude effects) and aviation GHG emissions will likely double or even quadruple by 2050.[i]And it is but a minority of people in the world who can afford to fly.

Substantial funding appears to have been allocated to promoting the runway extension, before any real analysis of the viability of the extension. The airport expects passenger numbers to double by 2030 ( Climate change appears almost invisible – there is no mention of ‘climate change’ etc. in the Wellington Airport’s summary consultation document.

There is also now a clear global climate path. For the first time (just months ago), the entire world agreed on a plan to reduce climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 2’C – and aspiring to 1.5’C.

The world has also agreed on a future trajectory that will see more and more ambitious emissions reductions – culminating in emissions neutrality in the second half of this century. The totality of emissions reductions plans add up to at least 2.7’C – which means we can already assume that the promised global emissions cuts will need to almost double (at least). As developed nations are expected to lead, we need to plan for a zero emissions Wellington in less than a generation.  

[i]Analysis for the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) indicates aviation currently contributes around 2.0-2.5% of current total annual global CO2 emissions, but “discussions over such proportions are of limited value. What is important is the total of emissions over time”. It projects, in the absence of policy intervention, aviation CO2 emissions alone increasing 2 to 4.5 times by 2050 (“aviation emissions of CO2 are projected to increase over 2005 levels of 0,2 Gt C yr-1 by 1.9 to 4.5 fold (0.37 to 0.89 Gt C yr-1 ) by 2050”). In addition, high-altitude flights near or in the stratosphere means non-CO2 altitude-sensitive effects may increase the total impact on human-made climate change significantly, perhaps close to a 4-5% cumulative effect (i.e. near 4-5% of radiative forcing). The IPCC has estimated that aviation’s total climate impact is some 2-4 times that of its direct CO2 emissions alone (excluding the potential impact of cirrus cloud enhancement).

Aviation‘s contribution to climate change. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 2010.

IPCC. Aviation and the Global Atmosphere: A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Jardine CN. Calculating the environmental impact of aviation emissions. Environmental Change Institute Oxford University Centre for the Environment, 2005.

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