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Aviation: Climate Change

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010


Asked By

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his response to the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change in its report Meeting the UK aviation target—options for reducing emissions to 2050 about a total increase of aviation demand of 60 per cent by 2050.

My Lords, I welcome the committee’s advice. The report will be extremely useful for Government and the aviation industry in planning for the future. We are now engaging in further work to cost and assess policy options to meet the 2050 target. It is important that the aviation industry also focuses on operational and technological changes, which will contain the growth of aviation’s carbon emissions in the short term, and then reduce them thereafter.

Thank you very much indeed. I thank the Minister. In the light of that target, if the Government go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow, what measures is the noble Lord planning to use to constrain the growth of aviation elsewhere?

My Lords, the Committee on Climate Change stated that on its central case scenario, a 54 per cent increase in flights by 2050 was compatible with the carbon reduction targets. The full utilisation of the third runway at Heathrow would represent a 10 per cent increase in flights, so it is perfectly compatible to increase the number of flights and passengers at Heathrow while also meeting our carbon reduction targets. I emphasise that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK; it is also running at full capacity at the moment. Therefore, the argument for expansion of capacity at Heathrow is stronger than for any other airport.

I am on cloud nine now, as someone has just said to me, “So young, so eager”. I apologise to the noble Baroness.

We need our transport policy for railroad and air to be integrated, as it is in Europe, if we are to benefit from the single European market. Will my noble friend respond to the letter that I sent to him asking that the regulators take account of the inter-operability of railroad and air as they do in Europe, where all forms of transport are required to drive down their emissions and not simply compete with each other in a very simplistic manner?

My Lords, given the complete and predictable failure of the Copenhagen conference and the fact that it is clear that the world as a whole will have no curbs on the growth of aviation passenger transport, can the Minister assure the House that he will look at the matter again and not do anything to curb the use of air travel for British citizens, particularly in view of his answer to the earlier question, when he expressed his desire to see greater mobility?

My Lords, we need to strike a balance. It is important that we meet our carbon reduction targets, but we are mindful of the social and economic importance of aviation, which is why we welcome the key recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change that an increase of 60 per cent in the number of passengers and 54 per cent in the number of flights is compatible with our climate change obligations.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is strong evidence at the moment that aircraft manufacturers are taking this very seriously, particularly where the next generation of aircraft is concerned? I speak as the president of BALPA.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point, and the Committee on Climate Change emphasises that the development of technology such as novel airframe configurations, advanced lightweight materials, innovative laminar airflow control techniques and more electric airframe aircraft systems all significantly improve aircrafts’ environmental performance and fuel efficiency.

My Lords, what progress are the Government making in reducing groundborne emissions around airports? Clearly, the two are directly related.

My Lords, the airport operators have targets for improving the efficiency of air traffic movements on the ground, all of which of course also contribute to the reduction in carbon emissions.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a supporter of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. Encouraged by his earlier answer, and in view of declining passenger numbers and the emissions issue, will my noble friend commit the Government to withdrawing explicitly their support for BAA’s plans to expand runway capacity at Stansted and thereby end 10 years of blight on that area?

My Lords, the decision on an application to expand the airport is a matter for the airport operator. However, I would not overdo the decline in air passenger numbers; if one looks at this in any historic context, they are continuing to rise sharply. In 1982, the number of air passengers was 60 million; in 1997 it was 146 million and in 2007 it was 240 million. Even in the midst of all the economic problems that we have had over the past two years, the reduction on that figure has only been very slight. There is still enormous economic and social demand for air travel, and there will be a need for additional airport capacity in the future.

Is the Minister aware of how difficult it is for those who are amateurs in this field to swallow the statement that increasing traffic by 54 per cent will enable us to reduce emissions? That means that they will have to be reduced by at least 55 per cent in relation to each aircraft.

I do not wish to blind the noble Lord with facts, and I am an amateur myself in this business. Perhaps I might, however, simply give him the facts; today’s aircraft are 70 per cent more fuel-efficient than the first commercial jets were, and each successive generation of aircraft is significantly more fuel-efficient than its predecessors. That will give him some idea of how it is possible to significantly expand air traffic without increasing carbon emissions.