UK Government's environment adviser says disputed data undermines aviation policy decision-making
Wed 21 May 2008 - A report jointly undertaken by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) concludes that there is such considerable dispute about the environmental, economic and social impact of air transport that a three-year moratorium should take place on any proposed airport expansion until further research and consultation has been carried out.
The report, entitled Breaking the Holding Pattern, finds that available data on the benefits and impacts of aviation is “widely disputed”, and inadequate for reliable decision-making on the future of UK air travel. It also warns that decisions about the future of air transport must not pre-empt crucial UK and international policy decisions addressing aviation’s climate impacts.
It argues there is widespread controversy over key data on air travel in the UK, including the benefits to the UK economy, its contribution to climate change, noise and air pollution, and the potential for technology to reduce aviation’s environmental impacts. “The high levels of conflict around the effects of aviation are bad for government, industry and citizens, creating rising distrust and undermining policy decisions,” the report claims.
The findings are based after SDC and IPPR held a year-long series of workshops and meetings with representatives from national and local government, the aviation industry, academics, NGOs and citizen groups. The three main areas of disagreements, say the two, are:
● Lack of agreed measures for assessing the benefits and impacts of aviation – Although widely credited with bringing economic benefits through trade and tourism, controversy remains over:
·the benefits of inbound tourism versus the losses from outbound domestic tourism, and the impact of tourism on developing countries;
·job and wealth creation from aviation; actual levels of inward investment, and the opportunity cost to other modes of transport; and
·the quantifiable impact of aviation on health and well-being, particularly from noise and local air pollution.
● Lack of established data on the climate impacts of aviation, and lack of clarity over the role of technology – Significant scientific uncertainties remain over:
·the contribution of aviation contrails to climate change; and
·the potential for technology to make significant reductions to aviation’s climate impacts, how soon improvements can be made and whether other measures must be taken in the interim.
● A lack of policy coherence across government – Clashing government priorities across different departments and agencies – including promoting economic growth, meeting future travel needs, protecting the environment, addressing climate change and ensuring the health and well-being of communities – are contributing to a lack of coherence.
The report warns that decisions about UK aviation policy must not pre-empt and undermine crucial UK and international policies addressing aviation’s climate impacts such as the UK Climate Change Bill, the UK Aviation Duty Consultation, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the post-2012 Bali Roadmap.
However, the report also claims there was “broad support” amongst stakeholders for “the inclusion of aviation and maritime emissions in a post-2012 climate change agreement, and the renegotiation of the Chicago Convention and associated bilateral agreements that currently restrict fuel tax”. It says they were also broadly in favour of including aviation emissions in the EU ETS “but only as a partial solution”. There was also support for rapid action on the Single European Sky (SESAR) initiative to improve flight path efficiency over European air space.
The SDC recommends the setting up of a special commission to undertake a major review of UK aviation to “provide a sound basis on which to revise its air transport policies”, which would be structured around five “key challenges” for sustainable aviation:
·meeting society’s needs, now and in the future;
·being supported by good governance and subject to fair fiscal treatment;
·making a fair contribution towards climate change targets;
·reducing negative impacts on people and the environment; and
·building skills and the economy across the UK and globally.
“The special commission should draw on the best available current scientific and expert opinion, in a dialogue with the public and stakeholders, to develop the widest possible consensus,” advises the report. Structured around the five key challenges, it continues, the sustainability of the Government’s air transport plans should be assessed in order to give a strategic direction for any growth in the sector, and should be met simultaneously.
SDC and IPPR envisage four stages to the process:
1.Create an updated evidence base on the key aspects of the economic, environmental and social benefits and costs of UK aviation, seeking maximum consensus among stakeholders.
2.Undertake a deliberative dialogue with the public and key stakeholders on the future of aviation in the UK, setting out policy options to stimulate a national debate.
3.Coordinate and support immediate action in areas where broad agreement exists between stakeholders, such as on integrated transport, technological innovation and business travel.
4.Make recommendations to Government for revising the 2003 Air Transport White Paper and developing a national policy statement on aviation, using the agreed data and results of the dialogue.
The report has received support from environmental campaigners such as WWF, Greenpeace and Hacan, the latter a group opposed to the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport. Pro-aviation lobby group FlyingMatters said that a complete review of policy would create uncertainty for communities around UK airports.
The SDC is the UK Government’s independent advisory body on sustainability issues, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. However, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT), the government ministry responsible for aviation, said the DfT “fundamentally disagreed” with the report’s findings. “It is simply wrong to claim that there is consensus that the evidence base on expansion is flawed. Given that the Government has conducted a widespread debate over the last six years, deferring a decision in favour of a further three-year debate as this report suggests is not a serious option.”