With environmental provisos, the UK parliamentary cross-party Transport Committee backs Heathrow expansion
The House of Commons Transport Committee takes evidence
Mon 7 Dec 2009 – The UK’s parliamentary Transport Committee of cross-party MPs has endorsed the UK Government’s support for a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, subject to the application of tough environmental conditions. In its wide-ranging report, The Future of Aviation, the Committee called on the Government to ensure that the UK’s major airports, particularly Heathrow, are connected to a future high-speed rail system. It also stressed the need to curb pollution from aviation with stronger environmental standards to reduce CO2, air pollution and noise from aircraft, and called for decisive efforts to remove older and noisier planes. The Committee expressed doubts as to whether the inclusion of aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme would have the required effect of driving investment in low-carbon aviation.
Beyond the immediate problems of the economic recession and security threats, the Committee says in its report that “reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other climate change impacts from aviation is the greatest challenge facing the aviation industry.” Whilst it was right for the Government to support the sensible development of air transport in the UK, it argues, choices between economic benefits and environmental costs sometimes need to be made.
The report notes that aviation’s current contribution of UK greenhouse gas emissions stood at some 5% but by 2050 this could rise to 25%. With the Government passing domestic legislation binding it to cutting UK CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, evidence from its advisory Committee on Climate Change (which is due to present its own report on aviation tomorrow) suggested that there would be a requirement from non-aviation sectors to cut their emissions by 90% or more to offset a lower level of reduction in aviation emissions.
The Transport Committee laid out three principles that should apply to future UK policy on aviation emissions:
·aviation and climate change are global in nature, and global solutions are the only realistic response;
·aviation should be treated equitably in climate change policy – it should not be demonized or assigned symbolic value beyond its true impacts; and
·carbon reduction measures should be cost-effective and take account of the economic value of aviation.
The Committee of MPs went to the United States during its deliberations on a fact-finding mission. “Our meetings with aviation industry representatives there brought home to us the extent to which the industry is relying on sustainable biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation in the medium term. Purchasing carbon offsets is also expected to be significant over this period.
“Whilst some emissions savings will result from new aircraft, the recession and poor credit ratings of airlines are making fleet replacement more difficult. On past experience, it would take at least 15 years and probably much longer to replace most of the world’s jet airliner fleet.”
The Committee also took evidence on noise and air quality issues. Aircraft noise is a nuisance to a large number of people, it found, which detracts from their quality of life and presents health hazards which are not fully understood, although planes had become quieter and noise levels have reduced for millions of people.
“The Government must act decisively to ensure that older, noisier aircraft are taken out of use as soon as possible,” it insisted. “This should be achieved firstly by seeking to influence international noise standards (set by ICAO) and secondly through guidance to local airports.”
It urged the Government to revisit its procedures for assessing the impacts of aircraft noise, the compensation arrangements and the effective enforcement of noise regulations, and also review the adequacy of research into the effects of aircraft noise, particularly on human health.
It also asked the Government, in partnership with airports and airlines, to bring forward measures to improve air quality around major airports.
The Committee looked in depth at the levels of taxation and charges applied to the air transport sector. It found the issue to be hotly disputed, with the industry arguing that it contributes heavily to the Treasury whilst critics saying it should pay more. The MPs say they asked the Government for more guidance but did not receive a response.
“It would be helpful if the Government clarified this issue with a statement of the revenues raised, the extent of any tax exemptions and how these compare to the social and environmental costs of aviation,” they say in the report. “As part of this clarification, the Government needs to explain the basis for its earlier statement that an additional £10 billion ($16bn) might be raised if VAT and fuel duty were applied to aviation.”
The Committee concludes, however, that the main purpose of Air Passenger Duty (APD) is to raise revenue for the Government, although it had been modified to provide ‘green signals’. The major environmental cost of aviation – climate change impacts – would therefore be covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, it believes.
“The level of APD should therefore be set according to the Government’s revenue needs, taking careful account of the economic importance of the aviation industry. It also needs to be mindful of the state of the aviation industry in the current economic recession and to take account of competition from other European airports.”