MPs criticise Government over carbon ‘fantasy’ for Heathrow expansion (based on vague hopes)
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has criticised the UK Government for its failure to deal adequately with carbon emissions from a 3rd runway, saying their carbon calculations were a “fantasy”. As part of its response, the Government says it will publish an Aviation Strategy white paper in 2018 (which means pushing the Heathrow runway through first, and only then, sorting out the rest of the UK’s aviation policy. A true case of “cart before horse”). The government is trying to make out that adding a new runway would not place extra pressure on other sectors to reduce their emissions. The Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly warned this would be the case, if gross UK aviation CO2 emissions rose above 37.5MtCO2 per year. The government says (whatever this means) that it “remains open to considering all feasible measures to ensure the aviation sector contributes fairly to UK emissions reductions”. Clear as mud. The EAC has now ceased work, due to the general election. But its chair, Mary Creagh has warned the election will enable the Government to “duck their responsibilities to the environment”. She said: “Heathrow expansion should only go ahead if the Government has a clear plan for the extra air pollution, carbon emissions and noise. All the government has to offer on aviation CO2 is membership of the (woefully weak and inadequate) ICAO deal, which the UK would join in 2021.
MPs criticise Government over carbon ‘fantasy’ for Heathrow expansion
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has criticised the UK Government for refusing to commit to air quality targets in relation to the third runway expansion, labelling the associated carbon calculations as a “fantasy”.
As part of its response, the Government revealed that it will publish an Aviation Strategy white paper in 2018 as part of a broader aviation commitment
The Government has aligned itself with the findings of the Airports Commission, which suggests that Heathrow airport could expand without exceeding legal air quality levels. The EAC issued a report in February, warning that the expansion at Heathrow Airport could create a “black hole” in future carbon budgets.
In a response to the EAC’s concerns, published this week, the Government has reaffirmed its belief that the Airport Commission’s carbon scenarios and measures are “realistic”, noting that none of the scenarios place extra pressure on other sectors to reduce emissions. Specifically, the Government noted it “remains open to considering all feasible measures to ensure the aviation sector contributes fairly to UK emissions reductions”.
The EAC chair, Mary Creagh has since suggested that the upcoming general election will enable the Government to “duck their responsibilities to the environment”, noting that no guarantees have been made that EU air quality policies will remain in place for the expansion to adhere to.
“Heathrow expansion should only go ahead if the Government has a clear plan for the extra air pollution, carbon emissions and noise,” Creagh said today (28 April).
“I am pleased to see the Government agrees with my Committee’s recommendation on measuring the noise impacts, but Ministers are still refusing to guarantee that EU air quality targets won’t be quietly dropped after we leave the EU, have no national plan for air pollution, and their carbon calculations are a fantasy.”
The secretary of state for Transport Chris Grayling has stated that “we must tackle air quality and noise, and meet our obligations on carbon both during and after construction”. The Transport Committee is expected to scrutinise draft recommendations and will publish its report by summer recess 2017.
With the UK planning to reduce emissions by 57% by 2032 – and by 80% by 2050 – as part of the recently-approved Fifth Carbon Budget, critics have questioned how the airport expansion will align with these national policies.
Thursday’s High Court ruling to publish an air quality plan by July places extra pressure on the Government to outline how the expansion will fit in with the UK Air Quality Plan.
“The Government is determined to meet its air quality obligations and to do so in the shortest time possible. We will publish the final UK Air Quality Plan by 31 July,” the response notes. “Final development consent will only be granted if the secretary of state is satisfied that, with mitigation, the scheme would be compliant with legal air quality requirements.
“The Government is aware of the desire for certainty around what exiting the EU means for our environmental policy and legislative framework. That is why the Prime Minister announced last year our plans for a Great Repeal Bill. The Bill will convert EU law into UK law as it stands at the moment before we leave the EU.”
Heathrow Airport is confident that it will place “no more cars on the road” as a result of expansion, and plans to utilise new public transport routes, car-sharing and electric vehicles to mitigate road-associated carbon emissions. When questioned on the feasibility of this target, the Government merely noted that the responsibility “rests with the applicant”.
In recent months, Heathrow has launched Heathrow 2.0, a ‘sustainability super-strategy’ ahead of expansion, while also questioning air quality omissions from a Government consultation. The Airport’s sustainability & environment director Matthew Gorman reiterated a call for the Environment Agency (EA) to be handed a role as an independent aviation air quality authority to oversee Heathrow’s expansion proposals.
As part of its response, the Government revealed that it will publish an Aviation Strategy white paper in 2018 as part of a broader aviation commitment. The Government also reaffirmed its intention to participate in the global aviation emissions scheme from 2021.
This is what the Environmental Audit Committee said on 26th April, on carbon emissions:
6. [The EAC had said to government:) The business case for Heathrow expansion must be assessed against a cost/benefit analysis which uses realistic carbon policy assumptions, in line with the Government’s aviation strategy, and takes account of the resulting impacts on other airports and other sectors of the economy. These must be the headline figures in future Government publications, including the final National Policy Statement. (Paragraph 59)
Response (by government) : The Government has reviewed the AC’s work and believes that the carbon scenarios and assumptions on carbon abatement measures used are realistic and that the analysis takes into account impacts on other airports . None of the AC’s carbon scenarios involves placing additional pressure to reduce emissions on other sectors of the UK economy except as a consequence of carbon price.
7. [EAC asked] The Government claims that Heathrow expansion can be delivered within “the UK’s climate change obligations”. The Government has not set out what it means by “obligations”, let alone how it will meet them. It has not decided whether to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation on limiting emissions from international aviation. It has not decided whether to follow the CCC’s advice on offsetting. The Airports Commission told us the appropriate body to make recommendations on managing aviation emissions is the CCC. It would not be a credible position for the Government to claim that it can deliver Heathrow expansion within emissions limits whilst rejecting independent advice as to what those limits should be and how they should be met. (Paragraph 60)
Response [by government]: We have been very clear, including in correspondence with the EAC, that we have not ruled out any of the AC’s carbon policy scenarios. In January 2017, we wrote to the Chair of the EAC, stating:
“[t]he Government has not taken a view on whether to accept the CCC’s planning assumption. The Government remains open to considering all feasible measures to ensure that the aviation sector contributes fairly to UK emissions reductions.”
The upcoming aviation strategy will consider measures to tackle the carbon impacts of aviation.
8. [EAC asked] The Government should reconfirm its intention to participate in this scheme [ICAO agreement] from 2021, which is after the date when the Government intends to have formally completed leaving the EU, urge other major emitters, including the United States, to live up to their commitments to participate from the earliest possible date, and work towards strengthening the agreement during its review periods. (Paragraph 61)
Response (by government): The Government agrees with this recommendation. We have stated our intention to participate in the scheme from 2021 and we continue to encourage our international partners to do the same. The UK is strongly in favour of further increasing the ambition of the scheme as it progresses and will work with other States in ICAO to try and achieve this during the review periods.
9. [EAC asked] The Government’s aviation strategy should be integrated with the cross-Government emissions reduction plan. It should set out costed policies to either meet the Committee on Climate Change’s planning assumption or to make up the shortfall from other sectors. This decision will have to take account of the limited progress towards decarbonisation outside the energy sector and the likely additional climate change impact of some non-CO2 emissions. Where the Government makes assumptions that are more optimistic than the Committee on Climate Change’s advice it should subject those assumptions to independent scrutiny from industry and the CCC and, if necessary, revise its plans accordingly. This strategy should be available well before the end of the scrutiny period for the draft National Policy Statement and consultation on it should be completed before the National Policy Statement is finalised. (Paragraph 63)
Response [by government] : The Government partially agrees with this recommendation. We are working closely across Government on both our plan to reduce emissions through the 2020s and an aviation strategy to replace the Aviation Policy Framework.
The issue of aviation and climate change is much broader than the development of an airport. Aviation is inherently an international industry and climate change is an international challenge. As agreed at the time of the Kyoto Agreement, it is only right that aviation emissions are tackled via concerted international action. It is also right that we take action domestically to reduce the carbon intensity of air travel. The AC considered both international and UK sectoral frameworks for tackling aviation emissions and concluded that any of its three shortlisted schemes for increased airport capacity could be delivered consistently with the UK’s obligations. The Government agrees with the AC’s conclusion and will continue to consider both international and domestic policy measures to tackle the climate change impacts of aviation.
The Government will set out its strategic approach to aviation in a series of consultation papers over the next two years including a paper on the environmental impacts of aviation. This will be an ambitious programme of work and will take some time. We will be consulting widely, both with the industry and with consumers throughout 2017 and 2018 – leading to publication of an Aviation Strategy White Paper in 2018.
The Department has also begun a programme of work to update our evidence on what measures could be used to reduce UK aviation emissions and what the associated costs would be to the UK and society more widely. This is due to be published in summer 2017 and will feed into the Department’s aviation strategy.
Full EAC report of 26.4.2017at