Aviation on agenda at climate conference

9.12.2009   (ABC news – Climate Change)
By Emma Alberici for PM

Delegates at the Copenhagen climate change conference are being told that the
price of air travel has to rise as the world meets the challenge of capping carbon
emissions and keeping temperatures from rising.

A report by Britain’s Committee on Climate Change (COCC) suggests the airline
industry can grow by as much as 60% by 2050 without affecting the country’s ambitious
climate targets.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has promised to cut carbon emissions by 80
per cent on 1990 levels over the next 40 years.

Heathrow in London is the busiest airport in the world – 70 million passengers
transit through there every year.

In 2008, the British government proposed an increase of 140 million passengers
a year, with the addition of a third runway.

Green groups lobbied hard to stop the Heathrow expansion. The airlines, the airport
and the government hit back, insisting that a healthy aviation industry was the
essential ingredient for a thriving economy.

After a long wait the COCC has published its report on whether the UK’s aviation
policy should be given wings.

It concluded that Britain’s airline industry could grow by 60% by 2050, not the
proposed 200 %.

The COCC also said in order for aviation to continue to grow, other parts of
the economy will have to reduce their carbon emissions by 90%, which is even more
than the government’s targets.

Essentially aviation will be quarantined so households, general industry and
the other parts of the transport sector will bear the brunt of the burden and
price of carbon reduction schemes.

COCC chair Lord Turner says the conclusions are logical.

“We should be trying to achieve bigger cuts in other sectors than aviation because
it makes sense to cut where it’s easiest to cut,” he said.

“For instance, we think that the combination of clean electricity and electric
cars will eventually enable us to take almost all of the carbon out of road travel
and certainly out of rail travel.”

The report suggests that the Heathrow expansion can proceed along with plans
to grow passenger numbers at the UK’s other two main airports, Gatwick and Stansted.

But anti-aircraft campaigners argue that this will simply involve a tax on the
poor so the rich can continue to fly.

Greenpeace’s Vicky Wyatt says the plan is “complete madness”.

“We’re about to add hundreds of thousands more flights at Heathrow Airport just
at a time when scientists are telling us that we need to make drastic reductions
and I think we really need to take that contradiction on board and act on it,”
she said.


Creative solutions


The government has ruled that aviation emissions in the UK must not rise above
2005 levels so the industry itself has been forced to think of creative ways to
find energy efficiencies.

Heathrow airport is used by more than 90 airlines and is the primary hub of Virgin

Virgin’s chief executive, Steven Ridgeway, says it is all about improving aircraft.

“It’s going to be 30% more efficient than typical aircraft flying today. Open
rotor fans, biofuels,” he said.

“Two years ago people thought that you’d never get any kind of different fuel
in an aircraft that could fly. We led the way with that and now several airlines
have followed with biofuel trials.”

Even with all those measures and the rise of tele-conferencing replacing the
need to travel long distances, aviation is still expected to contribute a quarter
of all the UK’s carbon emissions in 2050.

But in a matter of months after the general election, the entire debate might
become academic because the conservative Opposition party has flatly refused to
approve any expansion at Heathrow Airport.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers has warned that a third runway would
exact an horrendous price on the environment.