Climate activists protest expansion of Swedish airport

“It is time for the Swedish climate movement to level up the resistance and make clear that airport expansions are not supported by the people.” With arguments against airport expansion growing, campaigners in Sweden took direct action to prevent fossil fuel delivery trains reaching Stockholm’s biggest airport.

Protesters from Flyglarm Arlanda group walking with banner
Protesters from Flyglarm Arlanda group walking with banner

Jana Eriksson / Flyglarm Arlanda

Swedish activist group Flyglarm Arlanda protesting Stockholm's airport expansion 

Tansy Dando

On 11 August, activists from the Swedish group Flyglarm Arlanda held a peaceful protest to prevent fuel delivery trains from reaching Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. The group blocked 14 cars carrying fossil fuels in order to challenge the airport’s expansion plans and to highlight the serious environmental impact of plane emissions.

Among other expansions, including a fourth runway, the state-run airport company Swedavia is planning to build fourteen new streets and another pier at Terminal 5 to allow more frequent departures – Swedavia’s goal is to double the airport’s number of passengers by 2050 – which will of course lead to more flights and more carbon emissions. 

The Flyglarm Arlanda activists had given previous warning to management that they would stop the fuel train from getting in, so managed to disrupt the fossil fuel delivery without actually entering the train tracks. For safety reasons, the cargo company still closed down the facilities for 24 hours after the activists had entered the area.

“We are well aware that we won’t stop any planes from taking off with our action today,” said Agnes Lansrot, who was involved in the protest. “But by temporarily disrupting the delivery of fossil fuels to the airport, we wish to draw attention to the dirty business of fossil fuels that are still part of all air travel. We are here today because we know that an expansion of the airport means an increase in air travel, which means even more tank cars of fossil fuels, which means heavier climate emissions. We won’t accept that.”

“Airport expansions are not supported by the people” 

Plans for the next stage of the airport’s expansion were meant to have been confirmed in Spring 2019. However, there have been conflicting views on the subject within the Swedish government – the Social Democrats support the idea, while members of the Green Party, who still haven’t given an exact answer on the matter, are expected to oppose it.

“This disagreement between the two ruling parties means it is time for the Swedish climate movement to level up the resistance and make clear that airport expansions are not supported by the people,” says Anna Johansson, who also took part in the action. “Everyone who joined us today show that more and more people are ready to disrupt climate harming operations. This is only the beginning.”

Climate emissions from international flights taken by Swedish residents have risen by 61 per cent since 1990 and there has been no realistic strategy put in place to reduce this. However, Sweden is not the only country to be contributing to the issue – the difficulty with flight emissions is that they are often excluded from national carbon accounting because planes fly over a number of territories and the emissions cannot be attributed to a single nation.

“Emissions must immediately and radically be decreased in all parts of society”

Despite the fact that less than 10 per cent of the world’s population has ever set foot on a plane, flying is the most climate-harming mode of transport, with international and domestic flights becoming increasingly affordable and a regular occurrence for business trips and weekends away.

Even with the rise in terms such as ‘green flying’ being bandied around by aviation companies, the only real way to combat plane emissions – which are growing out of control – is to reduce the number of flights. 

As Samuel Jarrick, a member of Flyglarm Arlanda, commented: “With the techniques and the resources available today, the emissions from the aviation sector can only be managed through a decrease in air travel. In an already ongoing climate crisis we have no time to wait for the supposed future technology that the airport company hopes will solve the problem. Emissions must immediately and radically be decreased in all parts of society.”

A global issue

Stay Grounded, a global network of groups working towards the degrowth of aviation, recently held a conference in Barcelona to discuss how we can go about reducing aviation’s negative impact and create a just transport system. The conference outlined seven strategies for the degrowth of the aviation industry, including putting an end to tax exemptions on kerosene and targeting frequent flyers with a levy of €100 (£90) when they take their second flight within the same year. Another proposed strategy is to end domestic short-haul flights, something Germany’s Green Party is campaigning to do by 2035.

Aviation has a harmful impact worldwide, and it seems that so-called ‘sustainable air travel’ does not exist – the only way to tackle further carbon emissions is to reduce the number of flights being taken and make more environmentally friendly travel options available and viable.