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UK advertising watchdog upholds complaint against environmental groups' emissions and airport expansion claims

Tue 25 Mar 2008 – A complaint by low-cost airline easyJet over an advertisement by two UK airport environmental pressure groups, AirportWatch and enoughsenough, has been upheld by the UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The airline had contested three claims in the advertisement relating to aviation emissions and airport expansion in the UK.
 
The advertisement, which appeared in the national press, stated:
1.       “They [the UK Government] tell us that aviation already accounts for 13% of UK CO2 emissions – 20% if you include return flights.”
2.       “An ICM poll this month shows 60% of the public want airport expansion to stop, because of its impact on climate change.”
3.       “... the Government is encouraging the biggest expansion of airports the UK has ever seen.”
 
On the first claim, the groups submitted in substantiation a statement to the House of Commons by a Department for Transport Parliamentary Under-Secretary that said: “Using a radiative forcing multiplier of two, emissions from flights departing the UK contributed to approximately 13% of total UK emissions in 2005.”
 
However, the ASA responded that the full quote had stated: “In 2005, aviation represented 6.3% of UK emissions ... As the ‘Future of Air Transport Progress Report’ (December 2006) noted, aviation emissions arising from the combustion of kerosene include carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, particulates and other compounds. These give rise to radiative forcing impacts. The total radiative impacts were estimated by the EC TRADEOFF project to be approximately twice those of carbon dioxide (excluding cirrus cloud formation). Using a radiative forcing multiplier of two, emissions from flights departing the UK contributed approximately 13% of total UK emissions in 2005.”
 
The ASA said it had “noted many different figures were available for aviation’s contribution to climate change” and it “understood that the impact of radiative forcing was uncertain and there was no internationally agreed method of measuring its impact, which meant it was not included in national emissions totals reported to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of the Kyoto Protocol”.
 
It concluded that the claim in the advertisement should have made clear that the 13% figure included a multiplier for the radiative forcing impact. The ASA went on to say the 20% return flight claim was not made in the House of Commons statement and “went beyond the UK Government’s approach for measuring aviation emissions specific to the UK”, and by implication was therefore misleading as it was based on the groups’ own calculations.
 
The second claim had come from the results of an ICM poll, which found that in response to the question “Based on what you have seen or heard about the impact of climate change, do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for Government to increase the capacity of the number of flights allowed at UK airports?”, 32% had said it was a “fairly bad idea” and 28% a “very bad idea”.
 
The ASA adjudicated “that the fact a majority of respondents thought increasing airport capacity was not a good idea because of its environmental impact did not necessarily mean they wanted airport expansion to stop because respondents might, for example, have considered the economic benefits of airport expansion outweighed the environmental impacts and therefore they would have been unlikely to have answered that they “wanted airport expansion to stop”. We concluded that the claims misrepresented the results of the survey and were likely to mislead.”
 
On the third claim, the ASA acknowledged evidence presented by AirportWatch and enoughsenough demonstrated the Government was “encouraging some airport expansion” and had forecasted significant increases in the level of passengers and aircraft movements. However, it considered readers of the advertisement “were likely to interpret ‘airport expansion’ as a reference to more than merely the number of passengers using the airports ... and they were likely to infer the claim was also based on other factors, for example the area taken up by airports or the number of runways.”
 
It went on: “Because we had not seen evidence to demonstrate the Government was encouraging the ‘biggest expansion of airports the UK has ever seen’, we concluded the claim was likely to mislead.”
 
This is the third case to come before the ASA in as many months concerning emissions and airport expansion. Both Boeing and British Airways have also had complaints upheld against them following environmental claims they made in advertisements.
 
 
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