Government abandoning commitments to restrict aviation CO2 risks UK failure on carbon cap in Climate Change Act

Plans to build a third Heathrow runway have suffered a setback after the government’s official climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned ministers the project risked blowing a hole in the UK’s legally binding carbon targets. Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, wrote to Greg Clark at BEIS to raise “concerns” about the plans. Lord Deben said the central business case ministers made in October when they agreed to back a 3rd Heathrow runway would mean greenhouse gas emissions from aviation were about 15% higher than their target level by 2050. This cap is 37.5MtCO2, which is the level of UK aviation emissions in 2005. The CCC has repeatedly said that aviation emissions should stay at 2005 levels until 2050 if the legally binding UK targets are to be met. If aviation is allowed to miss, by 15%, its already very generous allowance, this would necessitate CO2 cuts from all other sectors to be 85% of their 1990 level by 2050. Lord Deben said that would require “significantly more action”to slash carbon pollution from other sectors, which is likely to be impossible. Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace, said: “What ministers know full well but don’t want to admit is that a third runway means other sectors of the economy will have to bear the costs of further carbon cuts, whether it’s regional airports or the manufacturing and steel industries. … it’s time ministers came clean about it with those concerned and the British public.”


Heathrow third runway ‘to breach climate change laws’

Plans to expand Heathrow Airport are set to breach the government’s climate change laws, advisers have warned.

The Committee on Climate Change says the business plan for Heathrow projects a 15% increase in aviation emissions by 2050.

If that increase is allowed, members say, ministers will have to squeeze even deeper emissions cuts from other sectors of the economy.

The government said it was determined to keep to its climate change targets.

The Committee on Climate Change is a statutory body set up to advise the UK government on emissions targets.

It warns that creating the space for aviation emissions to grow will impose unbearable extra emissions reductions on sectors like steel-making, motoring and home heating.

The committee also says that in making the decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow, ministers appear to have jettisoned their policy that aviation emissions in 2050 would be frozen at 2005 levels.

‘Limited confidence’

Its chair, Lord Deben, wrote to the Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark, saying: “If emissions from aviation are now anticipated to be higher than 2005, then all other sectors would have to prepare for correspondingly higher emissions reductions.

“Aviation emissions at 2005 levels already imply an 85% reduction in other sectors. My committee has limited confidence about the options (for achieving the compensatory cuts needed).”

Already since 1990, aviation emissions have doubled while economy-wide emissions have reduced by more than a third. Ministers see aviation as a special case because low-carbon technology for planes is not well advanced.

The committee says the Department for Transport appears to be planning to solve the aviation overshoot by buying permits to pollute from poor countries which have low levels of CO2 emissions.

‘Bear the costs’

This is permitted internationally under a new code recently agreed by the aviation industry.

But it is a departure from the government’s own existing policy – and rules stipulate that the change should have been checked with the committee before being agreed.

A committee spokesman told BBC News: “The committee has consistently said the government should not plan to use credits to meet the 2050 target because these credits may not be available in the future and they may not be cheap.”

Doug Parr from Greenpeace said the affair showed climate change was still an afterthought from a government pursuing business as usual.

He said: “What ministers know full well but don’t want to admit is that a third runway means other sectors of the economy will have to bear the costs of further carbon cuts – whether it’s regional airports or the manufacturing and steel industries.

“If that’s the plan, it’s time ministers came clean about it with those concerned and the British public.” 
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told BBC News: “The government agrees with the Airports Commission’s assessment that a new runway at Heathrow can be delivered within the UK’s carbon obligations.


“We are considering how we will continue to reduce our emissions across the economy through the 2020s and will set this out in our emissions reduction plan, which will send an important signal to the markets, businesses and investors.

“Our commitment to meeting our Climate Change Act target of an at least 80% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2050 is as strong as ever.”

But it’s not just on aviation that climate policies are struggling. The government’s long-awaited master plan for reducing long-term emissions has been delayed again – until early 2017.

The government did signal help for electric vehicles in the Autumn Statement, although critics say it has much more to do.

But the biggest challenge is the UK’s leaky housing stock: since the government scrapped its ill-fated Green Deal programme of home insulation it has had no nationwide plan to improve comfort and reduce emissions from existing homes.


See also assessment by AEF (Aviation Environment Federation)

Government must prove that Heathrow expansion won’t breach climate legislation, say official climate advisers

Chris Grayling’s letter to Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee on 8th November 2016

This states on climate:


and there is a bit more on DfT enthusiasm about biofuels.   (No mention at all of the CCC’s guidance, since 2009, of the 37.5 MtCO2 carbon limit for aviation per year).


Speech by Chris Grayling at the AOA (Assoc of Airport Operators) conference on 21st November.

The totally pro-aviation growth speech is at:

Confirms, as there is absolutely NO mention of CO2 or climate in it at all, that this government does not consider there is any need for UK aviation to stick within a carbon target.

It says: 

“[HR3] was the right decision for the whole country … And it will certainly not prevent London’s other airports from expanding. Gatwick, Luton, London City, Stansted and Southend all have crucial roles to play to meet growing demand for air travel.

“Of course growth will not be limited to the south east. Airports across the country will expand. Indeed, this is already happening. Last year our regional airports handled over 97 million passengers. Several have achieved double digit growth over the past 5 years, including Edinburgh, which has grown by more than a quarter, and Bristol, which has recorded an 18% increase in passengers.

“… Our chairman spoke eloquently earlier about the importance of promoting growth throughout the industry. I absolutely agree.”


At least on the 25th October, in Chris Grayling’s speech then,
there was these two feeble mentions .
” Climate change is a very important issue that we take very seriously. I was delighted by the agreement reached at the International Civil Aviation Organisation summit in Montreal recently, which sets a way forward for the aviation industry with international agreement. That is a significant step forward. We agree that a significant challenge remains that we must monitor very carefully, but the Airports Commission said very clearly that the expansion could take place and we could meet our objectives. That is what we intend to do.”
“We take the issue of climate change very seriously, and the Government have introduced a raft of measures to address it, but we must also ensure that we have the prosperity that enables us, for instance, to fund our national health service and our old age pensioners. Having a thriving, modern economy with strong links around the world is an important part of that.”

The DfT statement on its website on 25th October said:

“The government believes that a new runway at Heathrow can be delivered within the UK’s carbon obligations.”
Even that has now gone.
The CCC has written to BEIS Greg Clark to enquire about the government’s dropping of any intention to stick to the 37.5MtCO2 cap.

DfT now regards keeping to the aviation cap of 37.5 MtCO2 per year as “unrealistic”


This is where the DfT states that using the carbon-capped figures is “unrealistic” and so they are only looking at the carbon traded figures (which allow for Heathrow expansion, and aviation emissions above the target of 37.5MtCO2 that they have been recommended, by the CCC (Committee on Climate Change) since 2009.

Page 15 of the DfT document (25.10.2016)  states:

“1.12 The AC’s approach to modelling the carbon-capped scenario uses carbon price assumptions that are higher than the central values published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for appraisal. The carbon-capped scenario is helpful for understanding the varying effects of constraining aviation CO2 emissions on aviation demand and the impact on the case for airport expansion, but was described by the AC as “unrealistic in future policy terms”. The AC’s carbon-capped appraisal results are discussed further in chapter 8. ”


The CCC wrote to the DfT on 25th October, on their concerns about UK aviation carbon emissions

UK aviation emissions must be consistent with UK climate change commitments, CCC says

Following the announcement that the UK Government has approved the expansion of UK airport capacity, including expansion of London Heathrow Airport, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has issued the following statement:

Emissions from aviation are a relatively small but increasingly important source of UK greenhouse gas emissions (making up 6% of total emissions in 2014). Since 1990, aviation emissions have doubled whilst economy-wide emissions have reduced by more than a third.

It is important that decisions about UK airport capacity are consistent with the UK’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act.

It is the CCC’s role to monitor overall progress against carbon budgets and the 2050 target, rather than examine specific projects. Following the announcement about the Government’s preferred option to expand capacity at London Heathrow Airport, and in light of the recent UN-led agreement on controlling global aviation emissions, the Government should now publish a strategic policy framework for UK aviation emissions.

This should include a plan to limit UK 2050 aviation emissions to 2005 levels (implying around a 60% increase in passenger demand), which the Committee has previously advised is an appropriate contribution to the UK’s 80% target for 2050. The Committee’s advice on the level of 2050 aviation emissions was incorporated by the Airports Commission in their analysis and recommendations to Government.

The Government should also consider strategic options and innovation priorities to pursue deeper cuts in aviation emissions, consistent with the objective in the Paris Agreement to move towards overall net zero emissions in the second half of the century.

Aviation emissions are currently below the level they were in 2005. Ensuring aviation emissions do not exceed 2005 levels by 2050 could be partly achieved with continued improvements in fuel and operational efficiency and use of sustainable biofuels. Depending on technological and related progress, this could imply limiting the growth in demand to around 60% above 2005 levels by 2050 (45% above current levels).

The Committee will continue to monitor developments in aviation emissions and policy.


  • Aviation emissions are included in the 2050 target to reduce economy-wide emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels. CCC analysis has illustrated how the 80% target could be achieved with aviation emissions at 2005 levels in 2050, and by reducing emissions from other sectors by 85%. Aviation emissions at 2005 levels could be achieved with a 35% improvement in carbon intensity (through improved fuel and operational efficiency, and use of sustainable biofuels) and by limiting demand growth to around 60% above 2005 levels by 2050. Higher aviation emissions than 2005 levels in 2050 should not be planned for, since this would imply greater than 85% cuts in other sectors; there is limited confidence about the scope for this.
  • In 2015 UK passenger demand was 11% above 2005 levels; a 60% increase on 2005 levels is equivalent to a 45% increase on the 2015 level.
  • In 2014 (the latest year for which there are data), UK aviation emissions were 9% below 2005 levels. This is likely to be due to a range of factors including improved fuel efficiency of aircraft, operational decisions by airlines (e.g. higher loading factors), and changes in the route mix flown by passengers.
  • The CCC’s advice on the level of 2050 aviation emissions was incorporated by the Airports Commission in their analysis and recommendations to government. The Committee wrote to the Airports Commission in 2013 and again in 2015 to highlight the contribution of aviation to meeting the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.


Chairman of CCC writes to BEIS to query why DfT appears to no longer use the 37.5MtCO2 cap for UK aviation – but intends to allow higher emissions

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has been giving the UK government the advice, since 2009 (when government was trying to get a 3rd Heathrow runway) that UK aviation should emit no more CO2 than its level in 2005 (which was 37.5MtCO2) per year by 2050. This has tacitly been accepted by government since then. But the DfT “sensitivities” document put out on 25th October, said that this cap on UK aviation carbon was “unrealistic” and its assessments were only now looking at the carbon traded option. That means UK aviation CO2 well above the target. The Chairman of the CCC, Lord Deben, has now written to Greg Clark, Sec of State at BEIS (Dept of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, now in charge of UK carbon emissions, since DECC was scrapped) to point out that the DfT seems to no longer see the constraint of 37.5MtCO2 as being important, and its forecasts and business assumptions are all now based on higher CO2 emissions by UK aviation. Lord Deben says: “If emissions from aviation are now anticipated to be higher than 2005 levels, then all other sectors would have to prepare for correspondingly higher emissions reductions in 2050.” Even if UK aviation stuck at 37.5Mt CO2 by 2050, this would mean “an 85% reduction in emissions in all other sectors”. The CCC does not have confidence that cuts of over 85% could be made. That implies the UK would miss its legally binding CO2 target.

Click here to view full story…