Skip to main content


Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on managing the effects on climate change of the Government’s proposals for the aviation market. (270302)

Tackling the impact of climate change on aviation is a key priority. That is why we led the way in ensuring that the EU emissions trading scheme would cover aviation emissions for the first time from 2012. It is also why we are the first Government in the world to make a commitment to returning aviation emissions to their current levels by 2050. We are also striving to ensure that international aviation is part of global climate change agreements.

The Secretary of State has made the courageous and correct decision to set a target of 80 per cent. for carbon reduction emissions by 2050. Unfortunately, however, if aviation is to return its emissions to their current levels by that date, all other sectors will be required to make an 89 per cent. cut to cater for it. Given that fact, given the entirely unnecessary expansion of Heathrow, and given that transport is the only sector in which carbon emissions have increased since 1990, is it not time that the Secretary of State had a word with the Secretary of State for Transport and told him to stop derailing his climate change strategy?

Surprisingly enough, I do not see it that way. [Hon. Members: “Yes, you do!”] Let us not turn this into a pantomime, but no, I don’t.

There is a respectable position with which I disagree: the hon. Gentleman’s position, which is that we should make across-the-board cuts of 80 per cent. in every sector. In the case of aviation, that would mean returning to 1974 flying levels. I do not think Members could truthfully say that we have those levels now.

As was pointed out by the Committee on Climate Change itself, when it comes to decarbonisation it is inevitable that bigger cuts will be possible in some sectors than in others. I believe that we have been incredibly forward-thinking in making the ambitious commitment, on which the committee will advise us by the end of the year, to return aviation emissions to their current levels—to enable aviation to consume its own smoke, as it were.

Of course there must be a price for carbon emissions from aviation. That is what the EU emissions trading strategy does. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to disagree on this matter.

I noted the Secretary of State’s comments on this matter, but as travelling by air causes 10 times more pollution than travelling by train, why are the Government still intent on increasing aviation capacity, such as through the extension of Heathrow? Surely we should be looking at a shift from plane to train for short-haul journeys?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the issue of domestic flights; we should do all we can on that, which is why we have announced plans for high-speed rail. Let me make this point to him, however, which the Heathrow debate raises: even after the recession, and even after putting a price on carbon, passenger demand in the UK is expected to double in the next 20 years, and as we know, the world is getting closer together, not further apart. I cannot honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that the right way forward is to have no expansion of aviation. Indeed, in the debate on this issue the Conservative Front-Bench team said, revealingly, that they were in favour of aviation expansion in the south-east, but—this is the problem, and we suspect a bit of opportunism here—not at Heathrow, not at Gatwick and not at Stansted. I therefore do not quite know where the Conservatives want the expansion. We have a very genuine and thought-through position, unlike the Conservative party.