All sectors must tighten their climate belts, except aviation. 

The proposed expansion of Dublin airport from 32 million passengers per year to 40 million could not come at a worse moment. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sharply across society and abide by our urgent and necessary climate commitments. The beginning of 2024 is already setting the wrong kinds of records, with January being the warmest on record. Yet, one of our largest semi-state companies, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), thinks it is the right time to increase the number of air traffic movements coming to and from Dublin Airport. This is entirely disrespectful to other sectors of society who are being told to tighten their belts, while the airport and aviation are allowed to disregard climate commitments.  

The rhetoric of the DAA and airlines centres on an economic framing of growth, connectivity and tourism. While these are important, they must be contained within the limits of our climate obligations and the concerns of local residents near the airport. Instead, the aviation sector is pushing for more growth at the expense of these concerns. Increasing the supply of flights to and from Dublin airport means that we are choosing to put even more harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in breach of our international climate commitments, as well as choosing to create more noise disturbance for nearby residents who are already really discontented with current activity at the airport. Let’s not forget that we are a signatory to the Paris Agreement, and we have made laws as a country to ensure that we meet the goals of that agreement. The government is now requiring other sectors, such as agriculture, to make huge sacrifices and transition towards low carbon forms of development under these climate laws. Meanwhile, the aviation sector is being allowed to continue business-as-usual.  

While government policy is ignoring aviation emissions, the warming atmosphere and all other sectors cannot. Expanding Dublin airport is reinforcing the bad precedent that aviation operations are not subject to climate restrictions, despite our emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement. Given that the state is focusing a lot on providing infrastructure for walking, cycling and public transport of late, their support for this airport expansion is extremely contradictory. This can only lead to massive opposition from rightfully disgruntled members of society who are working so hard to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while aviation can continue to profit from environmentally damaging activities. This is completely unacceptable in a climate emergency which requires an all-of-government and all-of-society approach. Let’s be transparent and collaborate together to manage our societal transition, rather than telling some sectors to decarbonise while allowing others to grow unabated. We require equitability, accountability, responsibility and transparency across all sectors to tackle the climate emergency together. Locking in fossil fuels further into sectors like aviation, is a disservice to all.

Narrow focus on sustainability within the airport 

The retort from the DAA is that they are tightening their belts by decarbonising operations within the confines of the airport. This is a most welcome development which all sectors across society need to be pursuing ambitiously. However, focusing solely on this fails to account for the emissions which take place in the sky which no-one wants to take responsibility for. Increasing these in-flight emissions will completely counter the hard work that will be done to decarbonise airport operations on the ground and will completely outweigh any emissions reductions in ground operations. This paradox is one that the DAA and airlines refuse to acknowledge, and they continuously hide behind the lack of regulation for aviation activity and a promise of efficiency improvements and sustainable aviation fuels. These remain uncertain and ultimately deflect from the only real solution to aviation emissions, demand management.  

These deflections to the sustainability of ground operations are deceptive and don’t paint the real picture; the total emissions from increased air traffic will increase if this expansion is approved, it doesn’t matter how much decarbonisation happens at the airport on the ground. The DAA and airlines have a clear responsibility to reduce their impact on the climate, as a major emitter within transport. We are at a climate crossroads, and they have the power and the choice to not increase the number of flights in the first place. They have chosen to embrace continued growth and increased profits at the expense of our climate, and with disregard for the concerns of local residents and other sectors trying to decarbonise. 

We inhabit a pivotal time in history when courage needs to be shown in how we respond to the climate crisis, with sharp declines in the carbon intensity of our economy urgently required. Continuing a false cure-all optimism in relentless economic growth cannot be reconciled with the cutbacks needed across all sectors, including aviation. We need to invest in the low-carbon economy instead of in proposals such as this airport expansion which will only serve as a form of carbon lock-in. 

More traffic congestion and private car use

Let’s also not forget that previous applications to expand airport operations have been refused because of concerns about increased traffic. Our public transport system is in urgent need of upgrades, and there are some exciting projects in the pipeline (MetroLink, BusConnect). These aren’t up and running yet, so it very premature for the airport to rely on these, as they do in their planning application, as sustainable transport measures which will solve traffic congestion, while airport operations are simultaneously expanded. There’s also little concern for sustainable transport in the planning application’s proposal to build 700 extra staff car parking spaces. Again, a display of relentless growth and business as usual. 


The valid concerns of the public who live near the airport are clearly being overlooked and underestimated. Noise complaints went through the roof in 2023 when flights picked back up again after reductions during Covid. Yet, instead of addressing the residents’ noise concerns, the DAA is pushing through with a proposal to service a whopping 8 million more people per year in the airport and the large growth in air traffic movements which this entails. It seems residents’ modest desires to have a good quality of sleep each night and to enjoy decent ambience in their homes are being completely disregarded. The existing restrictions to air traffic movements are already causing a stir, with a limit of 65 flights to the North Runway between 23:00 and 07:00. And this is still very generous to airlines if we compare with the nighttime restrictions at Heathrow Airport which are limited to approximately 20.   


Expanding the activity of one of Ireland’s big greenhouse gas emitters to accommodate significantly more flights is irreconcilable with our ambitious and urgent emissions reduction commitments. The aviation sector cannot continue getting a free pass when it comes to sharply reducing emissions. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to the atmosphere whether or not aviation is included in climate law – it will only respond to a reduction in emissions. Managing the demand for flights is the clear action needed to reduce the carbon intensity of this sector, and this cannot happen by expanding the ability of the airport to cater to even more flights. Proposals to expand capacity at Dublin Airport should be rejected for the sake of our climate, fairness, equity, transparency and the right of people near the airport to get a good night’s sleep.