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Aviation: Carbon Emissions

Volume 686: debated on Thursday 2 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they have taken to ensure that projected growth in the aviation industry, including airport expansion, remains compatible with their carbon emissions targets.

My Lords, we have made it clear that aviation needs to take its share of responsibility for tackling its environmental impacts. Our priority is pressing for the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme from 2008 or as soon as possible thereafter. We will also continue to explore and discuss options for the use of other economic instruments.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Of course, we are very glad to know that the Government are addressing this issue. However, recent research from the Tyndall Centre and the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford shows that emissions from aviation as a proportion of carbon and other emissions entering the atmosphere are growing at an alarming rate. Is my noble friend aware that both organisations have put the halting of further growth in airport capacity at the top of their list of necessary measures to address this problem? Is he further aware that the Mayor of London was quoted yesterday in the Guardian as follows:

“We are now preparing amendments to the [2002 London] plan against any further runway capacity in the south-east”?

In the light of all this, is it not time for an urgent and radical review of the Government’s aviation policy?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those comments. The Government certainly take the question of emissions seriously. However, the House will recognise that to be effective we need international action, which is why we are addressing ourselves to the European Union position first, in order that we have some leverage with the international position as a whole. My noble friend is right. She is also right that air travel has expanded in recent years and we seek to meet the legitimate demands of many of our people for travel. We obviously have to strike a balance between the desirability of air travel and the fact that emissions from air travel are increasing. We need to be able to control that factor.

My Lords, I am following on from the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I do not know whether anyone has seen it, but the front page of the Independent today is timely. It declares that enough is enough regarding the expansion of airports all over the United Kingdom. The Minister constantly refers to “international action”, but our plans for airport expansion here are much worse than in other countries. Surely we should rethink that expansion now. The level of emissionsis set to rise from 8.8 million tonnes in 2000 to18.8 million tonnes by 2020. The Government need to rethink their airport expansion plans now. It is not international action that is needed, but UK action.

My Lords, the noble Lord is ignoring the fact that merely reducing our capacity unilaterally would lead to our competitors potentially increasing their capacity. It must be recognised that the aviation industry in Britain is responsible for 200,000 jobs. It is a very significant contributor to the economy and therefore a balance has to be struck. Let me also say this. One in every two of our fellow citizens took at least one flight last year. Of course the environmental impact of these developments has to be taken into account and that is the purpose of both the Stern report this week and the action taken by the Government prior to that report. But let us make no bones about the fact that there is an important aspect regarding the economy and our people’s needs, which we also need to take into account.

My Lords, has my noble friend not studied the findings of the Oxford University centre to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred, in particular the conclusion that the vast majority of flights are taken by the better-off sections of the community, mainly existing travellers flying more often? The number of people from the lowest economic categories taking flights is tiny when compared with the number of those flying off to their second homes in continental Europe. This is not an issue where poor people will suffer if responsible action is taken on aviation charges and climate change.

No, my Lords, but 50 per cent of the population is quite a significant proportion, so we do have to bear that in mind. However, I recognise what my noble friend says and certainly long-distance flights are taken more often by the better-off sections of the community. But we have an industry and a role in aviation in which we are an important world leader. So while we recognise that adaptation is necessary—enforcement may well become necessary for certain aspects of the operation of airports in terms of greener strategies—we must balance the obvious needs of the community for certain levels of air travel with the growing problem of emissions which has been so clearly identified in the reports to which my noble friend referred.

My Lords, in light of the need for urgent action to which several noble Lords have drawn attention, could not the Government consider using carrots instead of sticks on people? Would it not be a good idea to reduce rail fares, lengthen railway platforms and invest in new rolling stock, all sorts of things which the private sector would finance? In London, before Ken Livingstone introduced any penalties with the congestion charge, he improved bus services, put in bus lanes and made the system ready. He first put everything in a line.

My Lords, I am delighted to see that Ken Livingstone is getting such a good press in the Chamber today, but the terms of trade regarding internal flights and the use of rail are changing over the forthcoming period for obvious reasons. We are seeing very significant investment in high-speed rail developments, one of the most impressive and important of which is at King’s Cross in preparation for the arrival of high-speed trains from Europe, and we shall see the greater use of high-speed trains as opposed to aircraft. This investment is going on at the present time and will be reflected gradually in the price for various journeys. The principle that we will follow is that the polluter will pay.