UK Government reverses earlier decision not to include aviation emissions in Climate Change Bill
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown answers MP over Heathrow
Thu 30 Oct 2008 – Facing a rebellion from MPs within its own party and anger from environmentalists, the UK Government has backed down on an earlier decision to exclude aviation and shipping carbon emissions from its ambitious legally-binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050. Prime Minster Gordon Brown has also told MPs that a final verdict on a third runway at Heathrow “would be taken only after full consideration of the environmental implications”, fuelling speculation that the Government was getting cold feet over its support for the project.
Including international aviation and shipping emissions in the Climate Change Bill had been recommended by the Government’s own environmental advisers, the Climate Change Committee, less than two weeks ago (see story) but had been rejected by the Government because of the difficulties in attributing international emissions to the British carbon footprint and the lack of current viable alternatives to jet kerosene.
However, a tabled amendment to include the sectors’ emissions was accepted by the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, and announced in Parliament by the Climate Change minister, Joan Ruddock, on Tuesday (October 28). The Bill, which was given a third reading, is due to be passed next month and will require the Government to take account of projected emissions from aviation when setting five-year carbon budgets.
“We agree that action to reduce emissions from international aviation and shipping will be vital to global efforts to tackle climate change,” Ruddock told MPs. She said aviation emissions will be included in the budgets by 2012 or an explanation will be laid before Parliament explaining why not.
For the time being, the aviation sector will not be expected to make cuts because of the difficulty in apportioning emissions to particular countries. Aviation and shipping emissions are estimated to account for 7.6% of all UK emissions and this burden will now have to be taken up by other industries if overall targets are to be met.
Opposition MPs welcomed the inclusion of aviation and shipping into the Bill but suggested if the Government really wanted to get tough on aviation emissions it would halt proposed expansion plans at London’s Heathrow and Stansted airports.
Environmentalists were also supportive of the decision. “The final piece of the jigsaw is in place,” said Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth. “The world’s first climate change law will also be a world-class climate change law.”
David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, said: “The government deserves real congratulations for its decision to raise the target for UK emissions reductions and for its agreement to include aviation and shipping within the Bill’s framework. It has created an ambitious piece of legislation that sets the UK out as a true leader on environmental issues.”
Environmental groups may also be sensing victory in their campaign against the major expansion plans proposed for Heathrow. Prime Minster Gordon Brown told Parliament yesterday (October 29) that a final decision on a third runway would be taken only after full assessment of the environmental considerations.
“We said as a Government that we supported in principle a third runway. After all, there are five runways in Amsterdam, five in Paris and four in Frankfurt, and we are talking about a third runway at Heathrow,” he told MPs. “But we said that we would look at all the environmental considerations and that is what we are doing at the moment and we will come back to the House in due course.”
The Independent newspaper reports that an MP from the Government’s own party had been encouraged by ministers in marginal seats close to Heathrow to table a parliamentary motion calling for the expansion proposals to be abandoned. The MP, John Grogan, said there were also “wider environmental questions” to be considered following the Government agreement to include aviation in its 80% target for cuts in emissions. He predicted the third runway proposal could become yet the latest Government policy to be shelved.