New London runway would allow aviation emissions to soar beyond UK carbon target, argues AEF report
Mon 19 Jun 2015 – With its imminent recommendation to the UK Government on whether a new London runway should be built at Heathrow or Gatwick, the Airports Commission has drawn criticism for not fully explaining how a growth in aviation carbon emissions can be constrained within national climate targets. According to a report by aviation environmental campaign group AEF, the Commission has so far failed to come up with a credible policy for curtailing emissions and calls on the Government to reject the recommendation pending a proper analysis. AEF says that expansion at either of the two airports would require a scaling back of growth plans at UK regional airports in order to meet the carbon cap. The aviation industry contends that substantial growth in traffic can take place and still meet long-term reduction targets through new technology.
The Government’s climate adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has stipulated that annual carbon emissions from aviation should not exceed 37.5 million tonnes by 2050. The target is equivalent to a 120% increase on emissions in 1990 as against the 80% cut on 1990 emissions levels required from the UK economy overall, and takes no account of aviation’s non-CO2 impacts, points out AEF.
It contends that beyond a conclusion that meeting the target would require demand constraint, the CCC “has remained fiercely silent” on what policies should be adopted to deliver this as it argues these are for the Government to address. “In practice, however, public and political debate has been taking place without the climate change constraint on growth being well understood.”
AEF believes the Commission will compound the problem by recommending expansion at either of the two airports without explaining how the additional emissions can be squared with national climate policy. The only way to make emissions fit with the binding climate legislation, said AEF Deputy Director Cait Hewitt, would be to limit growth in other regions, “which would contradict Government policy for regional airport growth and be impossible in practice to deliver.”
In making its case for the economic case of expansion, the Commission had not factored in the national or regional costs of capping aviation emissions in line with the Climate Change Act, despite being specifically requested to do so by the CCC, claims AEF, and other sectors such as agriculture would therefore be left to shoulder tougher cuts.
AEF maintains independent studies have found that technological and operational measures have limited potential to reduce emissions and only marginal improvements in aircraft efficiency will be possible, with just 2.5% of aviation fuels like to come from alternative sources by 2050, according to Government estimates.
Unsurprisingly, the industry takes a different view. A CO2 roadmap report published in 2012 by coalition group Sustainable Aviation concluded that UK aviation was able to accommodate significant growth to 2050 without a substantial increase in absolute carbon emissions through the deployment of technology, operational measures and sustainable alternative fuels. It also supported a reduction of net CO2 emissions to 50% of 2005 levels through carbon trading. The report stated that sustainable fuels could potentially account for 40% of aviation fuel by airlines operating out of the UK by 2050, and with a 60% improvement in life-cycle emissions, CO2 emissions would therefore be reduced by up to 24% as a result.
AEF argues that a permitted growth in UK air passenger numbers of 60%, which is consistent with CCC advice on keeping emissions at or below 2005 levels by 2050, can be achieved without new runways in the UK, although it recommends additional measures such as raising aviation taxes, support for alternative means of connectivity and the formal inclusion of international aviation emissions in national carbon budgets.
The organisation has also called for expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick to be ruled out on air quality grounds, with air pollution – particularly around Heathrow – becoming a serious enough concern for the Airports Commission to call a late consultation on the issue.
“As with its last-minute, three-week long consultation on air quality, the Commission just hasn’t taken seriously enough the climate change challenge to expansion and will be handing back an incomplete and ill-thought through piece of work to Government,” said Hewitt.