U.K. Protesters Take Aim At SAF, But Was the Protest Legitimate?

Farnborough Airport officials pushed back on claims made by environmental activists who mounted a protest over the weekend.

Environmental activists took aim at private aviation operations at Farnborough Airport in the U.K. over the weekend, chaining themselves to fuel barrels and attempting to block airport entrances while denouncing the airport’s new sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) offering.

Members of Extinction Rebellion said it organized the blockade of entrances to the airport Saturday in a bid to draw attention to what the environmental activists called “wanton level of pollution by the super-rich.” Activists locked themselves on top of a 3-meter-high steel tripod, to fuel barrels and to the steering wheel of a stretch limousine, according to the group’s account of the October 2 protest.

One protester at the event said the group was demanding the U.K. government ban private flights, the Independent reported.

Airport officials confirmed that while a number of unauthorized persons gathered at the airport entrance for several hours, no one was arrested and the airport remained fully operational.

The protest at the full-service private airport that sits about 30 miles outside of London comes less than a month before the United Nations Climate Change Conference is set to begin October 31 in Glasgow, Scotland.

“These private flyers, just 1 percent of the world’s population, cause half of aviation’s global emissions,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement.

The organization denounced Farnborough’s offering of SAF, which the airport announced in July and said would reduce flying emissions by up to 80 percent when calculated with established life cycle assessment methodologies.

“The airport’s recent move to offer ‘sustainable’ aviation fuels (SAF) to aircraft is condemned as ‘greenwash,’ since the sheer amount of SAF needed to fuel the aviation industry would result in the mass destruction of forests and biodiversity,” Extinction Rebellion said.

“Greenwashing” is a claim that a company is deceptive about its environmental practices in order to maintain a positive public image.

Airport officials denied the group’s claim that private aviation shoulders the responsibility of half of aviation’s global emissions.

“Global aviation contributes 2 percent of total CO2 emissions with business aviation only accounting for 0.04 percent,” a spokesperson for the airport said in a statement.

The airport’s assertion that private aviation accounts for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is one that is backed by the civil aviation arm of the United Nations. “Global business aviation operations represent 0.04 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions,” according to a 2019 aviation and environment report issued by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.

Officials at Farnborough Airport recognize climate change as a pressing issue, an airport spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the airport is committed to improving environmental performance where it has control or influence.

“Farnborough Airport has achieved some important milestones in helping aircraft operators reduce their own environmental impact, this includes making available sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) earlier this year,” the spokesperson said. “Whilst used by a number of customers, supply is limited and wider take-up is expected as the cost of production comes down and supply increases. Farnborough Airport is committed to a sustainable future and we are actively working alongside our industry partners to deliver against the U.K. Government’s targets for net zero carbon emissions. This is an industry-wide issue on a global scale and not one that Farnborough Airport alone can solve.”

The October 2 protest is part of a growing trend of “Flygskam”—the Swedish word for flight shaming—that has emerged in Europe in protest to climate change in recent years.

The flight shaming trend is not one seen to the same degree in the U.S., but is one where protesters believe that “aviation is the scourge,” said Tim Obitts, president and CEO of National Air Transportation Association.

“I think that it is unfortunate that people think that our activities of promoting and adopting the use of sustainable aviation fuel, which is scientifically proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is somehow greenwashing. It is not greenwashing,” but the actual reduction of Scope 1 direct greenhouse emission activities, he said.

“Climate change is the number one issue everywhere,” Obitts said. “We’re trying to change the emission from the activity itself and that’s why SAF is so important right now.”

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