Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 93-99)

Wednesday 4 June 2003


  Q93  Chairman: Welcome to our session this afternoon and thank you again for the memoranda which you kindly sent to us. Is there anything you would like to add to that before we begin to take evidence from you?

  Mr Johnson: Thank you, Chairman. I think we are quite happy to go straight into the questions, but before we do if I could just very briefly introduce my colleagues. On my left is Jeff Gazzard, who is project manager for the Aviation Environment Federation and has looked after most of our work in relation to the current Government consultation and this current Treasury exercise. On my right is Brendon Sewill, who is chairman of the local Gatwick group and is also our economic advisor. Then on my very far right is Nic Ferriday, who does not represent AEF here but represents Friends of the Earth.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Mr Francois.

  Q94  Mr Francois: Thank you, Chairman. We in the Committee have done some analysis of the forecast increase in aviation emissions against the 2050 target of reducing CO2 by 60%. If you take into account radiative forcing then those results look pretty worrying indeed. Have you looked at the issue in these terms yourselves, and if you have what conclusions have you come to?

  Mr Gazzard: For the purposes of clarity in our submission we just looked at CO2 because, as you have heard, there is a lot of uncertainties. But if you add, as Mr Ainsworth said, the 2.7 multiplier, which is the middle of the range, then you will get that horrendous figure that you said, which is almost the total climatic impacts of those emissions. So your figures are right given, as we all have to say, there is this degree of scientific uncertainty.

  Q95  Mr Francois: Okay. Assuming the figures are broadly accurate and accepting the caveats that you are acknowledging, in light of that do you agree that the greater priority needs to be given to addressing the global warming effects of aviation?

  Mr Gazzard: In strategic terms, yes, and that is why we are so keen to see what is fundamentally our agenda, in an ownership sense not a self-aggrandising sense, in the DfT's document, in the Treasury's little consultation exercise and both this Committee's and the Commission of Integrated Transport's review of the same subject. It is the vital consuming strategic issue.

  Q96  Mr Francois: I think you were all present when we were taking evidence just a few minutes earlier from Greener by Design and they as well as the Treasury are arguing that technology can play quite a significant role in reducing the environmental impact. How much of a contribution do you think the technology can make?

  Mr Johnson: I think we would certainly appreciate that technology has a role to play. Quite a lot of commentators have addressed this issue and have made forecasts about precisely what is realistic in terms of the technology contribution and I think the best estimates in terms of efficiency at the moment are that you would probably get about 1% improvement per annum. If you were to incentivise that through economic environmental charges maybe you could get that up to 2% per annum. That is a significant improvement. But I think if you then set it in the context that the Department's forecast envisaged a 4 to 5% increase in traffic per annum you can see that they are very different and diverging trends, even from year one and that for every year you project into the future that represents a growing cumulative impact on the environment.

  Q97  Mr Francois: So are you saying in essence that even if you can get improvements at the margin year on year by using technology that in fact would be more than outweighed by the likely increase in demand?

  Mr Johnson: Precisely that, yes.

  Q98  Mr Francois: Therefore, you have got to do other things as well as being smart with technology?

  Mr Johnson: Absolutely. We have not identified one single measure that can achieve the environmental limits that we would be looking for. We certainly see looking at environmental costs as one of the ways of getting there. We see technology as providing another component in that dimension. But there is still a shortfall that we see can only be addressed through regulation, through looking at modal substitution and indeed looking at the whole taxation regime facing aviation because that is something that we think fuels those growth rates.

  Q99  Mr Francois: Okay. A question about local environmental impact. The revised BAA estimates for air pollution at Heathrow have attracted a lot of publicity recently, and I declare a personal interest as a south Essex MP who is quite opposed to development at Cliffe, so I ought to put that on the record. They now seem to be suggesting that the numbers likely to be affected by NOx pollution are far fewer than previously thought. What is your view on that?

  Mr Ferriday: Yes, I must declare an interest. I actually live fairly near Heathrow and I have to say objectively that I am very dubious about their estimates. It does seem rather peculiar that whenever there is a study which produces something difficult like 35,000 people exposed to levels that would exceed the EU limits a new study comes along and greatly reduces that, and they have had to make a series of quite optimistic assumptions. I will not go into detail but basically they have had to assume that planes do not take off on full thrust, which you have just heard about, and one of the methods of doing that was to ask BA pilots. Yes! They have also assumed more efficient ground operations in terms of less emissions. They have assumed engines far cleaner than current standards. They have redesigned the dispersion model, the way that the emissions are dispersed around. They assume they are dispersed more widely so the air pollution at any one point is less. Then finally, they have remodelled the background emissions or the emissions from road traffic and such like. So they have had to make five sets of optimistic assumptions to bring the number of people exposed down to just a few thousand and it is quite interesting that with that number of people exposed they could actually afford to move the people out and still just about pay for the new runway. So I think our feeling is we are a bit suspicious about this and really that air quality modelling ought to be looked at by somebody fully independent, not somebody employed by BAA obviously for the process of making it look better.

  Mr Francois: I was tempted to ask you whether or not this study was a sort of campaigning ploy in favour of the third runway but I suspect you have probably just answered my question.

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