More academics call for scrapping of airport proposal

The Tarras airport proposal faces more opposition as the number of academics calling for it to be scrapped increases.

Christchurch International Airport Ltd owns 750ha of land in Tarras and is expected to decide if it will proceed with plans for a new airport by the end of this year.

University of Otago sustainable tourism professor James Higham brought together 11 academics to create Informed Leaders, a group of university professors speaking out against the airport.

The group believed the airport was counter to New Zealand’s dedication to substantially reduce its carbon emissions, and in January wrote an open letter to the board of Christchurch Airport urging for plans to be halted.

Concerns cited included the "significant environmental, social, cultural and economic as well as political and reputational consequences" of failing to reduce carbon emissions by building a new airport during a climate emergency.

They also pointed to the need to move "away from the volume-based growth approach" to tourism which "underpins the airport proposal".

Airport executives responded to the letter in February and stated the group’s call for a stay on the project was "premature" and that their "assumptions are wrong".

Since then a further 66 New Zealand and international academics have jumped on board, and Informed Leaders launched an index of national and international research to "inform the conversation".

Prof Higham said the group "swiftly" grew after the Christchurch Airport company dismissed its concerns earlier in the year.

"To have nearly 80 leading academics — many of them professors and associate professors — now speaking out against an infrastructure project on the grounds of science is no small matter.

"We have not done this lightly. It’s because we are all very concerned that significant, established science is being ignored, and that this project should not proceed," Prof Higham said.

The research index represented decades of research and included dozens of peer reviewed papers highlighting "significant concern" about airline industry talk of achieving "zero carbon aviation" or "net zero" based on technologies which did not exist.

The group was working on "specific briefings around key topics" relevant to the airport proposal.

"Given the potential for significant, intergenerational impacts, these decisions should not be made in isolation by individual companies.

"The available research and data should be factored in, discussed openly with stakeholders and key communities.

"We are committed to enabling this approach, and we will share it with key decision makers, and the wider public."

He and others were calling for a "national conversation" about new airports.

"There is wide scientific consensus that there is still a lot of work to do, and many years — probably decades — before the industry could have any hope of significant decarbonisation.

"Zero carbon aviation is even further away. It is far from being a likelihood, and certainly not a done deal.

"We’re speaking out because ... building a new international airport in Tarras, or anywhere in New Zealand for that matter, is nonsense and would be wrong for so many reasons."