Two new reports done by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) & WWF and another one by The RSPB have shown that hopes of expanding airport capacity while meeting UK climate change targets can only be based on a wing and a prayer, requiring either implausible increases in carbon prices or constraints on regional airports to below current traffic levels.
The UK, like all G8 countries, is committed to cutting emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. But there are particular reasons why the challenge of ensuring that airports policy is compatible with climate policy has come to the fore in the UK. The number of flights taken per person in the UK is higher than in any other developed nation, London Heathrow is responsible for significantly more CO2 emissions than any other airport globally, and the Climate Change Act 2008 has made it a legislative requirement that the UK meets its political commitments on emissions.
In order for the UK economy as a whole to meet the requirement of the Act, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that aviation emissions should be no higher than 37.5 Mt CO2 by 2050 – reducing emissions back to 2005 levels. This, according to the Airports Commission, need not preclude a new runway. But the Commission has yet to spell out the policy steps that would be needed to reduce aviation emissions if a new runway were to be built.
The CCC has advised that since technology take-up, more efficient operations, or increased biofuel use can only do so much to reduce UK aviation emissions, limiting aviation CO2 requires limits on demand. Our analysis shows that the future Government would have two equally unpalatable options for constraining aviation emissions if approval was given for a new runway:
(i) Take unilateral action to tackle aviation emissions through taxes or other market based measures even though the Commission’s findings suggest that the cost would have to rise from around £3 per tonne of CO2 today to around £600 per tonne by 2050 which would have significant consequences for businesses. This option reflects Sir Howard Davies’ recent comments on the need for a higher carbon price.
(ii) Introduce very significant constraints on other airports, such as closure or restrictions to below current traffic levels at regional airports, to compensate for a new South East runway.
2. Share the two reports with your contacts who you feel could be drawn into the airports expansion debate by the contents of the report, particularly members of the climate change community, leaders of other industries or regional airports.
3. Contact the Department for Transport to request that they produce a scenario of future passenger demand and resulting CO2 emissions based on the world as it is today without strong regulatory measures, not a scenario where such measures exist.