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Airports: Heathrow

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How they will ensure that the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport does not compromise United Kingdom targets for the reduction of carbon emissions.

My Lords, government targets currently exclude international aviation emissions, as there is no agreed way in which to allocate responsibility for them to individual countries. A critical first step to a global solution is to cap EU aviation emissions by including them in the EU emissions trading scheme, which ensures that any growth in aviation emissions is offset by a reduction in emissions elsewhere. That approach means that growth in aviation, including Heathrow expansion, would be sustainable.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but he will not be surprised to find that I do not regard it as entirely satisfactory, particularly in the wake of recent further warnings from the IPCC about the acceleration of the effects of climate change. Does my noble friend accept that aviation is the fastest-growing contributor to damaging emissions both in the air and on the ground? I very much doubt that emissions trading will be enough to offset that effect.

The Environment Agency, an organisation on which the Government place some reliance, puts tackling aviation issues—and specifically the halting of airport expansion—at number seven in its recent list of 50 things that we need to do to save the planet. Is it not time for the UK to show real international lead by taking active steps to reduce air travel rather than simply accepting that continued growth is inevitable?

My Lords, I believe that the United Kingdom is taking an international lead in these matters. I absolutely respect what the noble Baroness has to say on these matters, but I think that we also have to keep a sense of balance and proportion about aviation’s contribution to global CO2 emissions. UK aviation contributes less than 1 per cent—0.1 per cent—to global CO2 emissions and international aviation itself contributes only 1.5 per cent. We take the environmental challenge seriously. That is why we have led the way internationally and why we have introduced, for the first time anywhere, legislation specifically to tackle climate change.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what levels of fuel prices the Government have factored into the forecasts and models they put before us in this consultation document on Heathrow and whether they have any figures on the cost of an alternatively—electrically—powered high-speed train service serving this country and nearby Europe? I would like the facts. If he does not have them at his fingertips perhaps he will tomorrow when we debate the railways.

My Lords, I do not have those comparisons, and I congratulate the noble Lord on being realistic in asking his question. Of course it is important that we encourage people to use more sustainable forms of transportation, and that is exactly why we have the high-level output strategy for rail and why we have made very significant investment in the rail industry. It is also why we have brought forward important contributions to ensuring that this level of investment specifically in the rail sector continues to increase. Proportionately fewer people are travelling by plane and more by train. That is why, particularly on the key InterCity lines, we recognise the importance of encouraging greater passenger use of trains.

My Lords, if nothing at all were done about Heathrow, is it not inevitable that the airlines would travel to major airports in Europe? How would that help us in the fight against carbon emissions and global warming?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s point; he is absolutely right that that business would go to other major hubs if Heathrow were not expanded. Paris and Amsterdam would benefit but I do not think that there would be a significant reduction at all in CO2 levels as a consequence; in fact, there could well be adverse impacts on CO2 levels. He makes a very respectable point.

My Lords, are emissions relating to taxiing and stacking operations higher at Heathrow than comparable airports and, if so, why?

My Lords, I do not have those comparisons to hand but I shall ensure that the research is carried out and write to the noble Earl on those points.

My Lords, can the Minister elaborate on what scope there is for the airline industry to offset its carbon emissions?

My Lords, there is considerable scope. That is why we are working with our European partners on developing an EU-wide scheme and why we have been working towards developing international parameters for an emissions trading scheme. That approach will in the end bring long-term benefits.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the Government have accepted the conclusions of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, which says not only that aviation must be brought within the ETS as soon as possible—certainly by 2010—but that it must be at levels of carbon that are far higher than currently envisaged if it is to have any effect on aviation’s growth across Europe and particularly on ticket prices?

My Lords, that research is of great value and I am sure that it will continue to contribute towards this important debate. What we have to ensure is that the emissions trading schemes are effective and work well and that the lead we have shown is followed by other countries across Europe.

My Lords, is not the fact that the airline industry will be increasingly important in terms of total emissions in the future the reason why international air travel should be included in the Government’s current Climate Change Bill in terms of the way in which emissions are monitored? Is it not essential that the House makes that change to the Bill?

My Lords, I cannot disagree with the noble Lord that, in the longer term, it is important that we have an international scheme that everyone can sign up to. Realistically, we are some way from that, but the Climate Change Bill provides scope for the development of an international emissions trading scheme and our Government should be congratulated on that.