Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


1. There is widespread concern about the environmental effects of the growth in aviation - in particular the likely impact on global warming. Recent figures suggest that aviation could become the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades.[1]

2. Following the outline consultation document issued in December 2000, The Future of Aviation, the Department for Transport (DfT) issued in July 2002 a series of regional consultations on proposals for expanding airport capacity.[2] Various organisations expressed concerns that this consultation did not adequately address the environmental impacts of the proposed growth in air transport.[3] In the latest Pre-Budget Report, the Treasury made a specific commitment to

    "discuss with stakeholders the most effective economic instruments for ensuring that the industry is encouraged to take account of, and where appropriate reduce, its contribution to global warming, local air and noise pollution. The Government will set out its plans in its Air Transport White Paper next year".[4]

3. In March 2003, the Treasury and the DfT released a 'discussion document' entitled Aviation and the Environment: Using Economic Instruments. This set out the Government's objectives for aviation, and its approach to using economic instruments. It also included estimates of aviation's environmental costs, including its impacts on climate change, local air quality and noise.[5]

4. We regularly review the Treasury's progress in placing environmental objectives at the heart of its fiscal strategy. In our most recent report on this topic, we focused on the Treasury's environmental tax strategy and the related document Tax and the Environment. We were critical of the strategy itself, and in particular the considerable reliance the Treasury is now placing on monetary valuation of environmental costs. By contrast, we advocated using economic instruments flexibly to support environmental policy objectives, targets, and standards.[6]

5. When the Treasury and the DfT released the discussion document Aviation and the Environment, we therefore agreed to a particular focus on aviation as part of our inquiry on Budget 2003.[7] The principle aims of the inquiry were to:

  • explore whether the full environmental costs can realistically be identified, and assess how comprehensive and accurate are those included in Treasury and DfT consultation documents;
  • review the extent to which the DfT has taken adequate account of environmental factors in its proposals for a future expansion of aviation; and
  • assess whether the incorporation of environmental costs would be sufficient to achieve sustainability in the air transport sector, and explore what policy instruments might be required.

6. We took evidence from John Healey MP, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, on 30 March, and from Alastair Darling MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, on 1 July. We also took evidence from a number of other organisations and individuals. In addition, some 24 organisations submitted memoranda to our inquiry. All the oral and written evidence we received is printed with this report.

7. Our inquiry was undertaken to complement that of the Transport Select Committee. Their wide-ranging inquiry was launched in November 2002, and was due to be published on 17 July 2003. For our part, we were concerned that environmental issues should receive adequate weight, and as our inquiry progressed we found that it raised issues which went beyond the relatively narrow scope of the HMT/DfT document Aviation and the Environment.

1   Ev03. See also the recent report, The Sky's the Limit, Institute of Public Policy Research, 2003. Back

2   The Future Development of Air Transport in the United Kingdom, July 2002. This consultation was released as a series of documents for different regions of the UK. The consultation for the South-East was revised and republished in February 2003, and is hereafter referred to as 'DfT South-East consultation'.  Back

3   eg The Sustainable Development Commission, and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Their consultation responses are available on their web-sites. Back

4   Pre-Budget Report, Steering a steady course: delivering stability, enterprise and fairness in an uncertain world, HM Treasury, November 2002, Cm 5664, paragraph 7.47. Back

5   Aviation and the Environment, HM Treasury and the Department for Transport, March 2003. Back

6   Fourth Report of Session 2002-03 from the Environmental Audit Committee, Pre-Budget Report 2002, March 2003, HC 167, paragraphs 44-62. References to the Committee are hereafter abbreviated to 'EAC.'. Back

7   EAC press release, Budget 2003 and Aviation, 1 April 2003. Back

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Prepared 29 July 2003