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Airports National Policy Statement

Volume 809: debated on Monday 18 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report by the Climate Change Committee Sixth Carbon Budget: The UK’s path to Net Zero, published on 9 December 2020, what plans they have to review the Airports National Policy Statement.

My Lords, on 16 December 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the earlier Court of Appeal decision and declared:

“The airports national policy statement is lawful”.

The Government are carefully considering the court’s judgment. We take seriously our commitments on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we will consult on an aviation decarbonisation strategy in due course.

I draw attention to my entries in the register. I thank my noble friend for her not entirely unexpected answer. However, will she agree with me that, especially in this year of the UK hosting the COP 26, our aviation expansion policy should be re-examined? Does she agree with the sixth carbon budget that any future expansion plans in London should be balanced by reductions in capacity elsewhere in the UK, which will not be good news for a levelling-up agenda, never mind our commitment to net zero by 2050?

I agree with my noble friend that this year is very important in terms of ensuring that we capitalise on our role as president of COP 26 and establish the sixth carbon budget in law, which will be done by June 2021. The role of international aviation within that is being very carefully considered by my department.

My Lords, of all the ways of restricting carbon dioxide emissions from air travel, is not restricting the capacity of airports the silliest? Its main consequence would be that more planes would be stacked up above busy airports, using more fuel, and all other flights to those destinations would have to carry more fuel just in case they were stacked up too.

I agree with my noble friend that there are many ways that we can tackle carbon emissions. He mentions stacking. That is why we are taking forward the airspace modernisation plan, which will have capacity benefits for airports, reduce costs for airlines and reduce delays for passengers—because stacking will become a thing of the past.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether the Government accept the climate change committee’s recommendation that international aviation emissions should be formally included in the UK climate targets when setting the sixth carbon budget? These are real emissions and account for 7% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions; by 2018, they had increased by 88% above 1990 levels.

As the noble Lord will know, the climate change committee published its report on 9 December, which is not that long ago, and Christmas was in the intervening period. We are looking very carefully at the recommendations. International aviation emissions is a very knotty problem which can lead to unintended consequences if countries act unilaterally. We really need to see international action, and the UK is at the forefront.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, when the Prime Minister made his extremely welcome announcement on 11 February that the Government were proceeding with HS2, he said:

“Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi”?—(Official Report, Commons, 11/2/20; col. 712.)

In view of that, can the Minister give a commitment that her department will look very carefully at HS2’s potential for shifting traffic from domestic flights to trains, as that would make a huge difference to the carbon emissions target?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that HS2 will provide huge benefits and may well lead to some people choosing to make a domestic train journey rather than taking a domestic flight. He is also right that it connects Birmingham Airport to north-west London in particular; I am sure the residents there will appreciate that.

Within the transport industries there is a growing consensus that travel patterns will change post-pandemic, with greater emphasis on leisure travel. Some 60% of Heathrow’s customers were business passengers, but we all use Zoom now. Heathrow expansion was already a white elephant before the pandemic. Does the Minister accept that it must now be reassessed, applying modern environmental standards?

Any expansion by Heathrow would already be assessed according to modern environmental standards because, of course, the ANPS is future-proof: London Heathrow must show that its plans are compatible with updated carbon targets and international obligations before it can obtain a DCO for the project.

My Lords, regarding the path to net zero, it is likely that a significant number of the roughly 223,000 jobs in the aviation sector may be lost. What is the Government’s strategy to replace them with sustainable jobs in an environmentally sustainable aviation sector? Now that the Government are providing further support—paid, of course, by the taxpayer—why are they failing to attach conditions, including banning the “fire and rehire” tactics used by aviation companies to push through wage cuts for already low-paid workers?

I am less pessimistic than the noble Baroness about the future of the aviation sector. The Government are working very closely with it both as it recovers from the immediate effect of the pandemic and on the medium-term strategy for regional connectivity, decarbonisation—as noted in earlier questions—and many of the other issues that are key to getting people back in the skies. On the noble Baroness’s comment about hiring-and-firing practices within some airlines, that is a matter for them and their human resources policy.

My Lords, as the urgent doom and gloom predictions of 20 years ago have not materialised, and as attempts to alter climate change are hugely expensive, how far have the Government got with the essential cost-benefit analysis?

My Lords, when we look at carbon emissions, we must do so in the round: air-quality and noise considerations also need to be taken into account. All of these are important. I accept that there are investments to be made, but I believe that, in the round, whether it be on carbon, air quality or noise, these investments are worth while.

My Lords, in light of the urgent need to reinvigorate the British economy post-Covid with ambitious and large-scale infrastructure projects that will require plentiful and flexible travel opportunities, and of the previously mentioned devastating impact of lockdown measures on aviation, tourism and jobs in that sector, will the noble Baroness assure us that net zero targets will not be used as a barrier to airport expansion and rejuvenation? Will the Government discourage the eco green version of unnecessary travel rules under the guise of hectoring us to fly less, and instead encourage us to fly more, when safe to do so, whether for pleasure, holidays, business or even to attend global summits to discuss carbon reduction?

Of course, the Government have a wide range of transport infrastructure projects that we are taking forward under the guise of building back better. The noble Baroness is right, in that there is always a balance: in the future, when aircraft emit less, it may be absolutely acceptable to take as many flights as one likes. Sometimes, we are told we should not fly, but, of course, that is just because of the carbon. Actually, flying is a very good, quick and efficient way of getting from A to B.

My Lords, the airports NPS proceeds on the stated basis that:

“Aviation demand is likely to increase significantly between now and 2050”,

and that

“Any increase in carbon emissions alone is not a reason to refuse development consent”.

However, the sixth carbon budget report says quite specifically that there can be no airport expansion unless emissions from flights can be reduced to compensate. Does that not require the Government to revisit and revise the NPS, considering this new conditionality, which they have accepted?

As I have said previously, the Government are extremely grateful for the expert advice provided by the climate change committee. We are considering all the recommendations in its report and we will report back shortly.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment in the energy White Paper to net zero for flights to European Economic Area countries. Therefore, could the Minister tell the House when the UK emissions trading scheme is likely to be aligned with our net zero trajectory, how it will take account of the non-CO2 warming effects of aviation and when net zero will be applied to all aviation, regardless of destination?

The noble Lord raises a series of questions that probably cannot be answered briefly, so I will write to him.

My Lords, will my noble friend undertake to keep under review airport passenger duty, which is now charged at double the amount compared to EU destinations and will act as a brake to ramping up airline travel as soon as the Covid pandemic is over?

As my noble friend is aware, the Government are keeping airline passenger duty under review. We are aware that it has significant negative impacts, particularly on domestic flights, and we will consult in due course.