You probably have heard about the historical juridical decision: The Austrian Federal Administrative Court ruled against the third runway of the Vienna International Airport! The public interest in the mitigation of climate change was rated as more important than the supposed public interest in the project. We believe that the assessment was very thorough and the decision should not be challenged.
According to the airport predictions for future air traffic and our calculations, the third runway would have been by far the most polluting project in terms of GHG-emissions in Austria, and would have destroyed several hundred hectares of agricultural land. The court’s decision against the expansion was based on the following arguments: climate change must be mitigated and agricultural land must be preserved. A court rule without precedent in the world.
Unfortunately, the media in Austria spread the viewpoint of the airport saying that such a decision is not to be made by the court but by politics and that the Austrian economy is more important than the climate. So the airport and the city of Vienna (who owns 20% the Vienna airport) appealed – and we are scared that all the pressure could finally lead to an approval of the runway.
The largest share – 38% of the airport – is owned by « Industry Funds Management (IFM) », a shareholder manager with Australian headquarters. We want to make the shareholders aware of the amazing decision which was made and to encourage them to position themselves against the appeal and the construction of the runway. We wrote a letter to the IFM as well as to all the pension funds part of IFM.
Dear IFM Investors,
As a strong Climate Justice movement in Austria, we are deeply concerned about your investments in the Vienna International Airport. As a member of IFM Investors you own more than 38% of the Vienna International Airport. On the 2th of February, the Administrative Court of Austria ruled against the plans of the Airport to build a third runway.
It would more than double the current CO2 emissions of the Vienna International Airport, being the single most polluting new infrastructure project in Austria[i]. Since the Court judged that the project is in conflict with Austria’s own climate strategy, Vienna International Airport launched a media campaign against the judgment of the Court and announced to appeal at the Constitutional Court.
On the IFM website, you state that you place importance on responsible investments closely aligned to the United Nations Global Compact[ii]. Within the UN Global Compact, responsible investment means
– “supporting a precautionary approach to environmental challenges”
– “undertaking initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility”
– “encouraging the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly
The campaign of Vienna International Airport to fight the Court ruling against their expansion and your company’s continued investment are actions totally opposed to the stated IFM objectives of being involved with responsible investments. Especially, the precautionary principle implies “not only scientific-technological evaluation and economic cost-benefit analysis, but also political considerations such as acceptability to the public,”[iv]. Therefore we ask you to reconsider your involvement and to demand the Vienna International Airport to stop their media campaign and to cease to take further juridical steps.
The Administrative Court’s verdict is based on § 71 Luftfahrtgesetz (aviation law), which says that an airport approval shall be given if „… d) it is not in conflict with other public interests” [v].
The court ruled that the interest of climate mitigation and preservation of agricultural land was more important than the one of economic growth and jobs. It lists in its argumentation the political decisions around this: the signature of Kyoto and Paris, regulations from federal and state constitutions, the Austrian climate mitigation strategy (2012) which demands to „take into account possible effects of climate change in all relevant planification and decision making processes on the national until the local level”. Austria’s climate mitigation law sets yearly targets for GHG-emissions, also sector-wise. The court decision says: „In the transport sector GHG emissions should decrease from 22,2 to 21,7%, which would be a decrease of 2,25%. The construction and operation of the third runway would cause an increase of 1,79% or rather 2,02 % of the whole GHG-emissions in Austria”[vi]. This means that the runway would attack Austria’s own climate strategy, which is the reason for not accepting the construction.
The expansion of the project has not only been disapproved by the Administrative Court of Austria, but also been met by strong resistance by the community for more than a decade. Besides the Courts judgment, there are many other good arguments that show the pointlessness and danger of the expansion project:
- The 3rd runway destroys habitats for animals and plants.
About 760 hectares are required for the proposed expansion[vii]. Just under 200 hectares would be sealed with concrete and asphalt by building the new runway as well as new gates and space for planes to park and manoeuvre. In addition, 20 hectares of forest as well as dry grassland and conservation areas featuring endangered great bustards and ground squirrels are to be cut down and destroyed[viii]. The proposed illusory pseudo-solution for this destruction is to “recreate” the habitat elsewhere[ix]. However, natural habitats are not the same everywhere. Instead of this controversial trading of indulgences for the destruction of nature, this sort of infrastructure that is neither necessary nor sustainable should not be built in the first place.
- The 3rd runway prevents agriculture in close proximity to the city.
Several hundred hectares of agricultural land would be destroyed by building the third runway[x]. This is particularly worrying because already today about 11,5 hectares of land are being used for traffic and construction each day in Austria – this is equal to about 28 soccer fields![xi] This is happening although we know that regional agriculture in close proximity to cities is vital for a forward-looking food supply that requires minimal fossil fuels for distribution.
- The 3rd runway leads to increased flight noise, air pollution and damages our health.
The airport is located in the immediate vicinity of a densely populated area. The 3rd runway would direct its air traffic precisely across the urban communities of Vienna’s metropolitan area. At least 350,000 people are directly affected. The airport forecasts an increase from the current (2013) 240,000 flight movements to 460,000 in 2030, which equals to one take-off and landing every minute. Noise, especially at night, as well as air pollution caused by nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (fine dust), cause physical and mental health damage[xii].
Furthermore, we would add to the court’s ruling that the significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions must be carried out in Austria itself, and should not be outsourced to the Global South by compensation mechanisms (offsets, emissions trading) and questionable projects. Although only about 3-7% of the world’s population flies, the effects of climate change are perceptible to all and unjustly mainly to people in the Global South who fly very little[xiii]. The resource-intensive lifestyle of a growing middle class and upper class must not further burden societies that suffer most from the depletion of nature and from climate change and have historically contributed least.
We therefore ask you to oppose this project which will have inevitable adverse and long lasting impacts upon both local and world communities. By endorsing the court ruling you will be displaying a true commitment to your environmentally responsible objectives and your individual investors will see transparent support for IFM’s alignment with the principles of United Nations Global Compact.
We look forward to a reply to our concerns.
for “System Change, not Climate Change! Austria”
We are waiting for their answer and hope they will take responsibility.
[i] Calculations by Buschbeck, Britgitte, Physicist
[vi] Administrative Court of Austria, 2017 : https://www.bvwg.gv.at/amtstafel/291_ERKENNTNIS_2.2.17_ee.pdf?5te9fg p. 117
[vii] Landscape, TUWien (2011): http://p2.iemar.tuwien.ac.at/p2_10_schwechat/downloads/Bestandsanalyse/R5_Land_ws10_Arten_und_Biotope.pdf, p. 45
[viii] Amt der niederösterreichischen Landesregierung (2012): http://systemchange-not-climatechange.at/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Umweltverträglichkeitsbescheid_3.Piste_.pdf p. 14; see footnote , p. 21; Naturschutzbund: http://www.noe-naturschutzbund.at/PDF/ZIE_NetzwerkBericht2015_15042016.pdf and http://www.donauauen.at/dateien/8997_NPDA_35_2014_Enzinger_Gross_Ziesel__Raum_Schwechat.pdf
[ix] see Environmental Impact Assessment Outcome at footnote ; FT Watch (2014): http://www.ftwatch.at/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/FACT_SHEET_Biodiversit%C3%A4ts-Offsetting_FTWatch.pdf
[xi] see endnote vi, p. 102
[xii] Dachverband der unabhängigen Bürgerinitiativen gegen den Bau der 3. Piste (2013): http://liesing.fluglaerm.at/Dokumente/PK20140318Pressemappe.pdf, p. 11 f