Government to be challenged by the CCC over expanding aviation industry

9.9.2009   (Times)

by Ben Webster, Environment Editor

The Government is likely to be challenged by its own climate change advisory
body on its decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow and permit a doubling
in air travel by 2030, The Times has learnt.

The Committee on Climate Change believes that the rapid expansion of air travel is inconsistent with the Government’s
legally binding commitment to cut overall carbon dioxide emissions by 80% on 1990
levels by 2050.

It believes that allowing aviation to expand at the rate proposed by the Government
could place an unacceptable burden on other industries to achieve the cut.

The committee is also concerned that the expansion of air travel will undermine
efforts to persuade developing countries to agree emissions cuts at the UN summit
on climate change in December. When approving the third runway in principle in January, the Government made
it conditional on the aviation industry meeting its own target of cutting emissions
to 2005 levels by 2050. Ministers avoided using the 1990 baseline because this
could have forced airlines to halve the present number of flights.

Air passenger numbers grew from 102 million in 1990 to 240 million in 2007 and
are due to reach 470 million by 2030.

In a letter published today, [ click here for letter  ]   the committee says that if aviation emissions are at 2005 levels in 2050 the rest of the economy will
have to make 90% cuts to achieve the overall 80% emissions reduction target.

The committee will publish a review of UK aviation and its impact on climate
change on December 8, one week before Gordon Brown and other world leaders are due to sign a global
treaty on cutting emissions.

In an interview with The Times David Kennedy, the committee’s chief executive, said: “It wasn’t specified in our terms of
reference but we could take it upon ourselves to talk about Heathrow in our UK
aviation review.”

He said that the review would discuss what level of increase in air travel could
be accommodated by Britain’s legally binding carbon budgets.

“Can you double demand? You can imagine a world where you have more people flying
because you have efficient planes running on biofuel.   But whether these things
are plausible, we will report back in December.”

Virgin Atlantic is among a handful of airlines that have experimented with using
a tiny percentage of biofuel mixed with conventional jet fuel in test flights
without passengers.  However, industry analysts believe that concerns about safety
and a lack of sustainable biofuel sources mean that it is likely to play only a minor
role in powering future aircraft.

In its letter to the Government today the committee says that airlines cannot rely indefinitely on offsetting their emissions by buying allowances.

The letter says: “The aviation industry should also plan for deep cuts in gross
CO2 emissions.”     It adds that unless a global deal is reached on cutting aviation
emissions, airlines will account for one fifth of all CO2 emissions by 2050.

Vicky Wyatt, a Greenpeace climate change campaigner, said that any government would find
it almost impossible to build a third runway at Heathrow if it followed the committee’s

“Even without the proposed expansion of aviation, the UK industry is going to
find it very hard to offset its emissions through trading carbon, not least because
we already fly more than any other nation on Earth and other industries such as
the power sector would have to reduce their emissions even further to create room
for the aviation sector to grow even more.  Electricity consumers could end up
footing the bill.”

The Conservatives have said that they would cancel plans for new runways at Heathrow
and Stansted and would also oppose the expansion of Gatwick.   However, the party
has refused to say whether it would limit the overall growth of UK aviation.
To read the full letter –   click here for letter
See also the comment by AEF.