Karl Turner asks: Where next for the UK’s airport policy?
On 27 February 2020 the Court of Appeal declared the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) to be illegal as the Government had not taken into consideration their commitments on climate under the Paris Agreement.
The Court ruling means that the Government must either withdraw the ANPS or seek to amend it. This has never been done before so the Government will be breaking new ground and I know I’m not the only one concerned at the amount of discretion that is given to the Secretary of State [Grant Shapps] in this process – though at least Mr Grayling is no longer in office.
Expansion at Heathrow would have had a negative impact on the regions of the UK. According to a recent report by the New Economics Foundation which analysed DfT data, by 2050 as many as 27,000 jobs and £43bn in GDP growth would be displaced from the regions to London and the South East.
This ruling and the forthcoming Aviation White Paper [Aviation Strategy] provide the opportunity for the Government to have a rethink about its entire aviation policy, particularly with regard to any future airport expansion.
The Committee on Climate Change have recommended that the Government can only permit 25% growth in aviation by 2050 if we are to meet our climate targets. However, this will still require a faster reduction in carbon emissions in other sectors of the economy. [At least 90% CO2 cuts on 1990 levels, while aviation is allowed to more than double theirs].
The DfT published last week its Transport Decarbonistion strategy which revealed that UK aviation emissions in 2018 were at an all-time high, a total of 38.5MtCO2. The strategy seeks to enable passenger growth of 73% with emissions remaining roughly the same in 2050 as today. This will be done through technological solutions that either do not yet exist or will not be commercially viable within the timeframe required.
The aviation industry’s own plans show very little progress in the next five years which will forcing larger carbon reductions on other sectors of the economy which will have a particularly negative impact on those regions with large manufacturing sectors. In 2010 the aviation industry pledged to source 10% of fuels from sustainable sources in 2020. Yet by 2018, the industry had managed to source a grand total of 0.002%.
This cannot be left to the market to solve. The idea that we can carry on as normal contradicts all the evidence showing that we must act now to protect our climate. The Government should take this opportunity to put people and planet before profit by including international aviation and shipping emissions in the UK’s carbon budgets as soon as possible. [Currently they are not in the 5 yearly carbon budgets, but just “taken account of”].
Government is considering a flat carbon tax, yet this is regressive and would hurt the poorest in society the hardest as well as having a disproportionate impact on the regions outside of London and the South East. In my view it is vital that this if any growth in aviation is to be permitted then it has to be distributed evenly around the regions and nations of the UK.
The Government are rightly focused on responding to the coronavirus crisis. However, any financial support for the aviation industry must be targeted at workers and not shareholders.
There is not a strong case for aviation to get preferential treatment. The only special consideration that is credible should be on providing the goods and services that the population use and need every day. If this means that the Government has to take a financial stake in an airline or airport to ensure that our aviation infrastructure remains intact to deliver the goods that our NHS requires then that is a price worth paying many times over.
Any Government support for the aviation industry should also be conditional on a strong commitment to future operations taking place in line with our environmental commitments. Financial measures that appear designed to boost aviation demand or support failing businesses simply cannot be justified in light of the climate crisis.