MEDIA RELEASE – Wednesday 6th September 2023
79 leading researchers raise “elevated concerns” about risks of Tarras Airport project
The group of researchers and scientists concerned about proposals for a new international airport in Central Otago have written to the project’s shareholders with “significant concerns”. The group, now numbering 79 professionals, wrote to Prime Minister Hipkins, relevant Ministers and Christchurch City Councillors yesterday.
James Higham, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University and Honorary Professor at the University of Otago brought the group together in January to voice the researchers’ concerns and strongly oppose the airport proposal. He says that the most recent round of information released by the airport is “very concerning”.
“Having closely reviewed the information released by Christchurch International Airport Limited last week, our previously expressed concerns have elevated further,” he said. “We are certain that there is significant unacceptable risk for CIAL, its shareholders and therefore ratepayers, as well as the people of New Zealand.” James Higham says that key stakeholders and the public should be made aware of this.
In its letter to the Prime Minister, Ministers and Christchurch City Councillors, the group highlighted in particular the “imbalance, bias and predetermined view” in the airport company’s public communications about the project, as well as the absence of existing science and research. “Not only is their communication largely devoid of reference to rigorous supporting evidence, but many of its assertions and conclusions are contrary to scientific insight,” they said.
The group outlines six key “unsubstantiated claims or assumptions” which underpin the airport company’s report and highlight the depth of the group’s concerns. They conclude: “In our view, the significant financial risks alone associated with this project are enough that it should be shelved, as those risks will ultimately fall on the people of New Zealand, and specifically our children and grandchildren. These risks include the burden which will come as the costs of carbon increase. But there are also others.”
James Higham says that the group has offered to brief shareholders and stakeholders about their concerns “based on existing, peer reviewed research insights.” They are meeting with Christchurch City Councillors for a second time later this month. They have also published an index of research and other relevant information, including statements from aviation industry leaders, which is available to the public.
The group continues to extend an offer to the airport company and its shareholders to discuss scientists’ concerns “openly and transparently with you, and with the public.”
Details of the signatories and the research index can be found at www.informedleaders.com.
[Copy of Letter sent yesterday]
Sent to individual recipients [See page 3] via email to individual email addresses
Tuesday 6th September, 2023
CIAL’s recent announcements regarding the proposed Central Otago Airport
We are writing to you as key stakeholders in Christchurch International Airport Limited (“CIAL”) which, as you know, made a series of announcements last week.
Our group of 11 leading New Zealand researchers and scientists has now grown to 79, and includes international scientists of note, many of whose work is directly relevant to this airport proposal. (Full list here).
Having closely reviewed the information released by CIAL last week, our previously expressed concerns have elevated further. We were already of the view that this project was inappropriate, as you know. But now we are certain that there is significant unacceptable risk for CIAL, its shareholders and therefore ratepayers, as well as the people of New Zealand.
While CIAL claims nothing has been decided and “investigations are ongoing”, their communications reflect imbalance, bias and a predetermined view; an entirely unhelpful way to frame such an important topic.
What is worryingly absent from all of CIAL’s public communications is a commitment to fully factor in the existing science and research. This should be the starting point. Not only is their communication largely devoid of reference to rigorous supporting evidence, but many of its assertions and conclusions are contrary to scientific insight.
Our specific concerns are numerous. By way of illustration they include, but are not limited to, the following unsubstantiated claims or assumptions at the heart of CIAL’s marketing material:
- That growth in international visitor numbers is not just desirable, but inevitable, and that our only option is to cater for it.
The need to manage future growth, rather than submit to it, is completely lost in CIAL’s plans. The numbers CIAL presents do not fit with a sustainable future or economy, nor with tackling climate change. These numbers are also at odds with numerous policy documents at central and local government level, in direct conflict with the documented concerns of all of the lower South Island’s Regional Tourism Organisations, and most importantly with Central Otago residents. MBIE specifically required Destination Management Plans to be developed in ways informed directly by local resident opinions on the future of tourism. CIAL’s documentation ignores all of this.
- That building an international airport at Tarras will reduce carbon emissions.
This flies in the face of current science. It is simply not true.
- That an airport at Tarras is “better than the alternatives”.
Again, this is unsubstantiated and needs careful analysis before any such claims are made. There are many alternatives to building an additional international airport which haven’t been considered. It is impossible to assess relative merits without a comprehensive and impartial consideration of the alternatives.
- That the aviation industry is well on its way to significant decarbonisation and will achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While there is significant aviation research, recent unequivocal statements made by global leaders such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirm that this is simply not the case. Numerous aviation industry leaders, including our national carrier Air New Zealand, have recently confirmed this publicly.
- That CIAL are “world leaders in carbon management”.
We are concerned that in the information presented to the public last week, there is significant misrepresentation of carbon analyses. CIAL can be proud of reductions in some of its operational carbon emissions as a result of innovations at Christchurch Airport. But their calculations exclude over 99% of actual emissions at the airport. The exclusion of scope three emissions, most notably the flights that the airport serves, is now viewed internationally as misleading. An airport by its very nature is a carbon intensive operation. Further, CIAL have recently announced adding significant additional long haul services into Christchurch. By actively growing services coming into Christchurch whilst planning a second international airport with millions of inbound passengers, they are not “leading the world in carbon reduction” at all. Quite the opposite: they will be proactively adding significant carbon emissions to New Zealand’s ledger whilst other industries are moving to reduce emissions.
- That CIAL’s proposed airport will support “Central Otago’s aspirations”.
This is unsubstantiated. See also the unequivocal statement from Destination Queenstown and Lake Wānaka Tourism, released late last week.
In the introduction to last week’s report, CIAL says: “Our approach to sustainability is best captured by the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga”. It is important to fully understand Māori concepts when co-opting principles and values for documents. To be a true kaitiaki, ‘carer’ or ‘guardian’ of the natural environment, one must have a strong understanding of all kinship relationships between the human and non-human, and encapsulate this within a long-term view where all future generations, human and natural are cared for. If talking of “a world of possibilities” for our “children and grandchildren” then the concept of kaitiakitanga is misrepresented here. The proposed airport creates significant and irreversible environmental, social and economic risk which CIAL is ignoring. In our view, the significant financial risks alone associated with this project are enough that it should be shelved, as those risks will ultimately fall on the people of New Zealand, and specifically our children and grandchildren. These risks include the burden which will come as the costs of carbon increase. But there are also others.
There is extensive existing science and research relevant to this proposal. It has been produced following rigorous research protocols, peer reviewed before publication, and it is independent in that it is not driven by a commercial imperative or interest. In other words, it is unbiased. This research is accessible, readily available and relevant. CIAL’s documentation does not offer significant sources or evidence, and ignores all of the science that should inform any new major infrastructure project. Unfortunately that body of science casts long shadows of doubt over the Central Otago Airport project.
As we have previously stated, we are ready, willing and motivated to provide independent science and research based briefings. We have arranged a detailed briefing session with Christchurch City Councillors this month. We would welcome any further opportunity to do the same for other stakeholders.
We also maintain a regularly updated research index here, and we are available to discuss specifics. We will continue to communicate our concerns openly and transparently with you, and with the public.
In the meantime, we urge you to put a hold on further taxpayer or ratepayer money (directly or via the CCTO) being spent on this airport company project.
Nāku noa, nā
|Professor Jonathan Boston|
Professor James Higham
Professor Bronwyn Hayward
Professor Shaun Hendy
Distinguished Professor Robert McLachlan
Professor Ilan Noy
|Professor Steven Ratuva|
Professor James Renwick
Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond
Professor Huhana Smith
Professor Anita Wreford
And the 68 additional researchers, academics and associated professionals whose names and details you can find on this page.
List of recipients of this letter
- Rt. Hon. Chris Hipkins, Prime Minister
- Hon Dr Megan Woods, Infrastructure and Energy and Resources
- Hon David Parker, Transport and Environment
- Hon. James Shaw, Climate Change
- Christchurch City Council Mayor and Councillors
- Leaders of all main political parties in New Zealand
- Christchurch City Community Board Members
- Christchurch International Airport Ltd board members and executive
- Christchurch City Holdings Limited board members and executive
- Councillors of CODC, QLDC and ORC