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Portugal’s Proposed Ecocidal Airport Grounded

Above photo: Marulvw – YouTube.

But more climate-wrecking air travel infrastructure on the horizon.

Flying in the face of the climate crisis.

The Portuguese government has grounded an ecocidal airport that would have decimated a biodiverse wetland. However, it isn’t the end of the climate-wrecking air travel plan. Specifically, the government is still hurtling ahead with plans to build the new airport at a different location. Of course, this will be disastrous for the climate crisis and nature.

Portugal’s airport plans

In 2019, the Portuguese government announced plans to build a new airport outside of Lisbon.

The government planned to build this in the Tagus Estuary, close to Portugal’s capital. However, it is one of the main estuaries in Western Europe and Portugal’s most important wetland for waterbirds.

Moreover, the location is protected as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Site of Community Importance (SCI) under the EU nature law. Notably, it has special Ramsar wetland status and the government has designated the area a Portuguese Nature Reserve.

The Tagus Estuary regularly hosts up to 200,000 wintering birds. Alongside this, it is the most important place in the country for wintering ducks, waders, and other waterbirds such as flamingos and gulls. Meanwhile, in any given migration season, the Tagus can play host to in excess of 300,000 birds, as it acts as a crucial pit stop for migratory birds on their long journey.

So, in June 2020, ClientEarth and Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA, BirdLife Portugal), along with eight Portuguese NGOS, filed a court action with the Lisbon Administrative Court. The environmental groups argued that the Portuguese authorities failed to carry out proper environmental impact assessments.

Specifically, they said that Montijo Airport’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) goes against EU and national law and should be annulled.

An EIS is a document in which the government sets out its assessment of a project’s impact on the environment. EU law requires authorities to carry out a series of assessments to determine a project’s impact on a protected site. Only after it has conducted these assessments, and shown it would cause no harm to the area, can it greenlight a project.

Portugal airport on an “irreplaceable nature reserve”

Now, the government has finally dropped its plans for the new Portugal airport on the biodiverse estuary.

Head of ClientEarth’s Iberian and Mediterranean office Soledad Gallego said:

It is unbelievable that the Portuguese authorities were considering building a new airport on this protected site. The airport would have significantly deteriorated the habitats of this irreplaceable nature reserve and seriously compromised the migratory route from Europe to Africa of birds that depend on this unique area for survival. The decision to abandon building on the Tagus was the only feasible route to take.

Gallego added:

The authorities have clearly realised that building the airport on this internationally protected site would be incompatible with tackling the biodiversity crisis we are facing. The knock-on effects that this project would have had on migratory birds would have been felt well beyond Portugal’s borders.

Flies in the face of climate commitments

The development is part of the government’s plans to increase air traffic capacity in Portugal’s two main cities of Lisbon and Porto. Notably, this includes expansion of infrastructure at Lisbon’s Portela Airport. There, the government intends for air traffic increases of 50%. Meanwhile, it also aims to increase air traffic by 60% at Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport. The new Montijo airport in the Tagus Estuary sits alongside these expansions.

According to the community database the Environmental Justice Atlas, this would send air-traffic-related carbon emissions soaring. Crucially, these plans would make it the single largest contributor of carbon pollution in Portugal.

As such, campaigners, scientists, and members of the public have said it flies in the face of the government’s own goal for carbon neutrality by 2050.

And while the government has now dropped plans on the protected site, it now intends to build the new Portugal airport at a different location. In other words, it’s continuing with its mega-polluting air travel project.

Following the launch of the groups’ legal action, the Portuguese authorities announced they would carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This would determine the most appropriate location for the new airport. The announcement made by Prime Minister Montenegro to now build the airport near Alcochete is the outcome of the SEA.

Of course, climate groups have pointed out that the alternative airport location will still have far-reaching impacts on the environment. Gollego said that:

airports have global climate impacts regardless of where they are built. The Portuguese government should be asking itself whether building a new airport at all is in line with its climate goals and in the best interest of the health of people and nature.

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