The three-runway project is part of the expansion plans of the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) which started in 2016 and should be fully completed in 2024 (3). According to Airport Tracker, the airport emits as much annually as three coal plants combined. Worse still, the envisioned expansion alone is equivalent to building a new airport next to the existing one (3).
In addition to its climate impact, the project threatens the last Chinese white dolphins left in Hong Kong’s waters. Also called pink dolphins, the species is threatened with extinction and is listed in Annex I (the highest protection level) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) (5). It’s one of several marine species that will see their habitat destroyed, along with the water, noise and air pollution caused by the project.
“The issuance of a green bond for such a devastating project might have been cleared for takeoff (6) but the biodiversity and climate risks associated with the project speak for themselves: labelling this project as green is pure high-flying greenwashing. Sincere investors should stay clear of this bond, if their climate commitments mean anything at all” states Lucie Pinson, director of Reclaim Finance.
Beyond the issue of classifying part of the project as green, the participation of 11 banks that are members of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance raises doubt on the credibility of their climate pledges and on how they intend to meet a net zero target while supporting air traffic growth. These banks are ANZ, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Credit Suisse, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, Mizuho, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and UBS.
Air traffic growth caused an increment of 42% of CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2019, even considering the continuous improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency (7). A study by the Shift Project that analyzed two scenarios of decarbonization of the aviation sector through technology shows that the sector could not realistically align with a 2°C trajectory without reducing traffic growth (8).
“When banks, such as BNP Paribas, HSBC and UBS, go through the looking glass to paint an airport green, the basic credibility of their climate pledges is thrown into doubt. Financial institutions must publicly commit not to take part in any project that supports the growth of air traffic” adds Pinson.
The Hong Kong Airport Authority is not the first airport company to issue a green bond to finance the expansion of its infrastructure. According to Reclaim Finance’s research, at least five other airport companies have done so since the first example, a green bond issuance by the Mexico City Airport Trust in 2016 (9).