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Aviation: Carbon Emissions

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the United Kingdom airline industry is making sufficient efforts to reduce its carbon emissions and combat global warming.

My Lords, we recognise that the UK aviation industry is taking steps to address environmental issues, including climate change. The Government welcomed the aviation industry’s sustainable aviation initiative, launched in June 2005. This is, of course, in addition to the Government’s commitment to press for aviation’s inclusion in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, where we are making progress.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As far as I can tell, the Emissions Trading Scheme, by which the airline industry is setting great store, means that efficient producers of coal, electricity and steel elsewhere are building up large banks of carbon which they propose to sell to our airline industry, so that one form of pollution will be replaced by another. How does that help climate change?

My Lords, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is still in its early days, and aviation has not been signed up to it yet, although the Commission produced legislative proposals at the end of last year encouraging this development. The Government’s strategy—and we expect our fellow Governments in Europe to follow the same strategy—is that the polluter pays and that those who pollute will bear the full costs of the pollution they create. Through those price signals, we indicate to industries ways in which they can set about reducing pollution, and aviation is following that path as well.

My Lords, on price signals, how can it help the airlines to combat global warming by imposing a tax on the tickets which were purchased by passengers prior to the tax being implemented? Either the airlines have to absorb the cost, leaving less room for manoeuvre in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or hard-working families who pre-purchased their holidays are forced to pay an additional tax. What has that to do with global warming?

My Lords, what it has to do with global warming is to send a signal to the general public that there are pollution costs involved in flying which the aviation industry will be expected to bear. The noble Lord expressed concerns about the tax. He will have to stretch my understanding of economics if he thinks that a £5 tax is likely to deter people, however impoverished, from going on holiday abroad.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the attack just made by the noble Lord opposite was ill advised, unwise and unproductive, and indicates that the Opposition have nothing worth while to say on this issue? Does he agree that a notable contribution has been made by the British Airline Pilots Association, of which I am the president, so far as these fundamentally important issues are concerned? Does he agree also that the British aviation industry’s positive response to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has enormously benefited the travelling public and the cause that it represents?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who has an interest in an important part of the aviation industry. He is right that the positive response of our aviation industry bodes well for the future, but we will not make progress on this issue until we have established the scheme Europe-wide and in the wider international arena.

My Lords, the European Emissions Trading Scheme, great though it is, will surely not affect the airline industry for years. As the noble Lord said, the passenger tax makes no difference in terms of incentivising airlines to invest in carbon-efficient technology. Is not a commitment by the Government to impose carbon taxation on the airline industry surely what is needed?

My Lords, if the Government were to impose that tax on the British industry alone, it would disfavour the British industry without having any effect on the worldwide position. That is why we are looking at a broader base than just Britain. Nevertheless, the signals which are being given about the role of aviation in reducing pollution are important. However, we ought not to exaggerate the issue: aviation in Britain is responsible for only 3.5 per cent of carbon emissions. Therefore, there are other targets to hit as well.

My Lords, the airline industry is obviously being targeted at the moment. Will the Minister indicate which private sector companies in the generality are regarded as the leaders in reducing their own carbon-emission footprint and setting a good example voluntarily?

My Lords, the CBI, speaking on behalf of a wide range of private sector companies, has emphasised that it wants to see a constructive response to the Stern report and the importance of dealing with the carbon issue. It would be invidious to single out any particular firm, but it is right to emphasise that we are anticipating, and at this stage are getting, a constructive response from British industry.

My Lords, my honourable friend Ian Pearson, the Environment Minister, recently criticised Ryanair for not doing enough to combat global warming. How can Ryanair improve that performance without reducing the number of flights it operates?

My Lords, it would certainly help if Ryanair indicated that it wanted to play its part in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and to play the same role as British airlines and those of many other European countries intend to do. There is no doubt that that is the way forward to achieving a general reduction in emissions from airlines. My honourable friend in the other place was concerned because Ryanair seems to deny that that there is any value in doing this at all.