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Climate Change: Aviation

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 7 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the report produced by Woodnewton Associates in December 2007, Aviation and Climate Change: Public Opinion and the Scope for Action.

My Lords, while the report helps to raise awareness of the issues around aviation and climate change, it does not present any new data and fails to acknowledge government action on the subject. The Government acknowledge that climate change is the single biggest issue that we face and to that end have introduced a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable development of aviation.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that his own department has recently published a survey that reveals that public attitudes to the impact of aviation on climate change are moving fast? Does he also accept that the Woodnewton report concludes:

“The debate so far has been framed so as to equate restrictions on aviation growth with stopping people from flying. In fact, even quite dramatic interventions would allow modest levels of aviation growth”?

Is it not time for the Government to take the lead in reframing the debate by moving away from their current predict-and-provide policies on airport capacity and aviation growth?

My Lords, the Government have undertaken some research into public opinion on this issue. We are taking a leading role, but I cannot agree with the noble Baroness’s conclusion. We have to invest in ensuring that the aviation industry works well because we live in a service economy and we need to ensure that our service economy works well in the future. Many jobs are dependent on it and it adds to the wealth of the nation. This is an interesting argument and debate but we have to have a broader view on it.

My Lords, no one has commented that in the past 10 years carbon emissions from aviation have nearly doubled, whereas in most other sectors they are going down. Surely there needs to be a rethink, particularly in the investment in two new runways in the south-east, which may not be necessary.

My Lords, I am not sure what the Conservative Party policy is on aviation, but I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, speaks entirely for his party. In 2006, aviation certainly accounted for something like 6.4 per cent of the UK’s reported carbon emissions, but we need to look at carbon emissions across the entire economy. If we concentrate just in one sector that would debilitate that sector and have a serious impact on the economic prospects of our country.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that enormous progress has been made by European aviation, apart from Ryanair, which goes its own eccentric way? Does he agree that because the majority of flights are by their nature international, a solution must also be international? Now that the new Government of Australia and Senators McCain, Clinton and Obama share that view, are there refreshed grounds for optimism in that direction?

My Lords, we can take the optimistic view. Our Government have taken a leading role internationally in emissions trading. We have a coherent strategy and, of course, with the Climate Change Bill, we will take that a step further. Obviously progress can only genuinely be made over time through international co-operation.

My Lords, if the Government are really serious about reducing the impact of carbon is it not time that they, first, invested some effort into an education programme on the issue; secondly, put in place means by which people can travel without using aeroplanes; and thirdly, gave some active encouragement to the British tourist industry so that people do not have to go abroad?

My Lords, the noble Lord and I enjoy our debates on the rail and bus industries, and he usually fairly expresses the view that we have invested considerably in that sector, are making great progress, and that passenger numbers on both rail and bus are rising. As for his point about an education campaign, we have launched the “Act on CO2” campaign, which is raising public awareness of the issue.

My Lords, while I have supported my noble friend Lady McIntosh in her line on this issue, I had not intended to intervene until I heard the Minister say that we should not focus on one industry. The Government need to recognise that we are not focusing on one industry. The aviation industry has special privileges in terms of taxation, the way in which it is treated in the trading scheme, and in how its planning propositions are bulldozed through, whereas other industries that are reducing their carbon content get knocked back. It is time that the Government in a coherent way—I appreciate that there is some confusion on the Conservative Benches, but there is also a confusing message from the Government—told the aviation industry that all we are asking is for it to be treated the same as every other sector.

My Lords, I think that we are doing exactly that. We have a coherent emissions trading programme. We talked to the aviation sector about operational improvements in terms of surface transport feeding into that sector. We have a comprehensive programme on research and development, and we use a range of economic instruments to encourage what might be described as good behaviour by that sector. The offsetting scheme, and the fact that we are raising public awareness, tells me that we have a coherent government strategy to tackle a major, long-term, international problem.

My Lords, do the Government accept that part of the answer to the current expansion of the aviation industry in Britain has to be a real drive to shift national transportation from air to rail? Across the Channel in Spain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, one sees large, long-term investment in high-speed rail. One also sees Schiphol, Paris Roissy, Frankfurt and elsewhere with through railway lines to link local and national rail to international air travel. None of these projects has been carried through in Britain. The previous Government were equally culpable with the present one. Do we not want a long-term investment policy to invest in high-speed rail and direct rail links to airports?

My Lords, we have a massive programme of investment into the rail network. I stand at this Dispatch Box as part of a Government who have introduced the Crossrail Bill, which is an important and significant cross-London linking element to our network. We have improved connectivity between our major cities—into London, in particular. We continue to invest in expanding capacity in the rail network. No post-war Government could boast that record. I think that we are doing an extremely good job, and for the past 10 years there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of passengers using our rail network.

My Lords, we seem to be looking at the aviation industry in a microcosm rather than at the economy as a whole. The noble Lord said that we have to increase the railway network to airports. Why? So that we can get more people to the airports and get more people to fly, which means constructing more runways, as has been done in Schiphol, Munich and Paris. We have to look at the whole rather than at just one part.