National Audit Office sustainability overview of DfT – critical on aviation carbon emissions
The National Audit Office has carried out a departmental sustainability overview of the DfT, as it has done for some other departments. It was done at the request of the Environmental Audit Committee. The NAO says “The transport sector has a significant impact on the environment, making the activities of the DfT vital in meeting environmental objectives.” The briefing points out that transport CO2 emissions were 23% of the UK total in 2014 and that emissions from international aviation and shipping are not included. They say the DfT’s role in relation to aviation is “Setting national aviation policy.” On carbon emissions, the NAO says one of the DfT’s commitments is to “Work to secure agreement on a new global market-based measure to tackle carbon emissions from international aviation.” But they say, about international discussions on aviation, “it is unclear what the government’s goals are in these negotiations, and what action should be taken by industry in the interim.” The NAO continues: “The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended the publication of a policy framework for aviation emissions with long‑term assumptions as a proxy for outcomes under an international agreement, but the government response simply repeated support for regional measures, particularly the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.”
Briefing for the Environmental Audit Committee – by the NAO (National Audit Office)
Departmental sustainability overview
The Department for Transport
The briefing states:
This briefing has been prepared in response to a request from the Environmental Audit Committee (the Committee) continuing our series of Departmental sustainability overviews by examining the Department for Transport [the DfT]. The transport sector has a significant impact on the environment, making the activities of the DfT vital in meeting environmental objectives. This briefing provides an overview of the DfT’s sustainability and provides context for the actions it is taking to support environmental protection and sustainable development. Past briefings have included sustainability overviews on the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (2013), the Home Office (2014) and the NHS (2015).
This briefing is based on the good‑practice criteria established in the previous overviews to assess sustainability within the DfT, which can be found in the appendix. These include four areas where a department should embed consideration of the environment and sustainability. The combined results from these four areas will give the Committee an understanding of whether the Department is fully contributing to the government’s sustainable development objectives. Our briefing is primarily focused on the environmental impact and activity of the Department, rather than economic or social sustainability.
The role of the DfT in relation to Aviation is “• Setting national aviation policy.”
Context: the transport sector’s environmental impacts
National and international
• The Climate Change Act (2008) commits the UK to a 80% reduction in domestic
emissions by 2050.
• Net UK emissions were 514 MtCO2 equivalent in 2014 for carbon budget purposes,
a 36% reduction on 1990 levels.
• Of these emissions, 23% come from the transport sector, although international
aviation and shipping emissions are not included in targets.
• In its 2015 Progress Report the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advised that
its calculations for a cost‑effective pathway to reaching the 2050 target would include
transport emissions falling to around 81 MtCO2 by 2025: this is a 31% reduction from
the 2014 sector emissions.
• Department for Energy and Climate Change emissions projections indicate that
the transport sector will fall short of this scenario by a significant margin, 17 MtCO2
(47% of the required fall).
Under local impacts, under Noise:
Aviation – The Department sets noise controls at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted
including limits on night flights. Other airports have powers to set noise controls similar to those at the airports above and the government believes it is generally better for these to be agreed locally.
The extent of noise impacts, and the source, vary dramatically between sites, so it
is not possible to assess an average level of noise derived from transport. Instead,
the Environmental Noise (England) Regulations 2006 require DEFRA to produce
environmental noise maps for large urban areas, major transport sources and significant
Policy and policy-making: environmental targets and scale of challenges (aviation and maritime sectors)
Aviation and maritime sectors
These sectors operate primarily at an international level, so it is difficult to manage
environmental impacts through the regulations of a single country. The DfT
works with DEFRA and DECC to contribute to international discussions to agree
environmental targets and measures, primarily through the provision of data. However,
it is unclear what the government’s goals are in these negotiations, and what action
should be taken by industry in the interim. The Committee on Climate Change(CCC) has
recommended the publication of a policy framework for aviation emissions with
long‑term assumptions as a proxy for outcomes under an international agreement,
but the government response simply repeated support for regional measures,
particularly the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
Stakeholders have expressed concerns over the Department’s handling of aviation
noise pollution: this is a major concern for communities under flightpaths. Airports
are responsible for limiting the noise impact in their local area, and the Aviation
Policy Framework indicates an approximate average level of daytime aircraft noise
which the government expects would cause significant community annoyance.
Stakeholders accept that the overall arrangements are appropriate, and that it is not
possible to have a single noise-based measure for aviation in all situations; however,
the government could consider how to improve its leadership role through providing
a clearer indication as to the acceptable level of noise. Overall noise policy sits with
DEFRA but the Department is also in a position to encourage noise reduction, as it
approves airport noise action plans in conjunction with DEFRA. The Department was
instrumental in securing a recent agreement on a tougher international noise standard
in the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection.
Aviation is also a major contribution to emissions. The 2015 Report to Parliament by
the Committee on Climate Change, Meeting Carbon Budgets – Progress in reducing
the UK’s emissions, recommended that an effective policy framework for aviation
emissions should be published. The Committee recommends that this should plan
for the UK to keep 2050 emissions at 2005 levels (assuming around a 60% increase
in demand) at the same time as pushing for strong international and EU policies.
Under “Relevant Department commitments”
Work to secure agreement on a new global market-based measure to tackle carbon emissions from international aviation.