Select Committee on Environmental Audit Eleventh Report

Aviation: Sustainability and the Government's second response

1. Over the last year, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has produced 3 reports focussed exclusively on aviation: the present report will constitute our fourth.

  • In July 2003, we published our first report.[1] This was an in-depth analysis of aviation policy in the light of the joint Treasury/Department for Transport (DfT) document, Aviation and the Environment: Using Economic Instruments. The Government response to this was published as a Command Paper along with the White Paper in December 2003. [2]
  • In March 2004, we published our second report, following-up on the Government response and the White Paper and focussing in particular on the impact of carbon emissions.[3] We received the Government response to this report as a memorandum in June 2004 and subsequently published it with our third report.
  • In June 2004, we published our third report.[4] This was prompted by our concern about the quality and coverage of the Government response to our second report. We restated various key recommendations from our previous report and demanded a full and adequate response. We also included some further comment on the accuracy of emissions estimates in the light of the DfT's memorandum. Our report contained eleven recommendations. We received the DfT's response as a memorandum on 1st September 2004, and are publishing it as an Appendix to this —our fourth—report.

2. We are grateful to the DfT for their latest response. Compared to the previous memorandum, its tone is conciliatory and it is measured, considered and comprehensive in terms of commenting on the individual recommendations we made. We do not see that anything beneficial can be gained from prolonging our public dispute with the DfT and inviting yet another response at this stage; and for that reason we have refrained from including recommendations or conclusions in this report.

3. This should not be taken to mean, however, that we agree with the DfT's response. There remains a yawning gap between us on some key issues, including:

  • the extent to which the aviation White Paper encapsulates what is basically a predict and provide approach;
  • the adequacy of the research which the DfT has carried out to explore the social and behavioural impacts of the forecast growth in aviation;
  • the problem of reconciling the forecast growth in aviation with the need to develop more sustainable approaches to consumption; and
  • the glaring inconsistency of facilitating so large a growth in carbon emissions at a time when we need to make huge cuts to minimise the worst impacts of global warming.

4. On the issues of estimates of future aviation emissions in relation to UK forecasts, we have reached a point where it is clear that there is little substantive difference between our positions. The DfT's response included some other interesting points, such as the commitment that the UK would act unilaterally or bilaterally if progress towards tackling aviation emissions at an international level proves too slow; and the reference to the introduction in Germany of a scheme whereby passengers could make voluntary payments to offset their CO2 emissions.

5. There were other areas of the response which gave rise to more general concerns for Government as a whole. For example, DfT's admission that there are no plans to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases from their present level raises the question of whether a target should indeed be set in this area. We were also particularly concerned about the comments made about the role of the Integrated Policy Appraisal (IPA). While we would accept that much detailed work on specific types of impact did indeed underpin the White Paper, it nevertheless seems to us that the IPA should perform a crucial role in setting out the basis on which trade-offs—for example, between economic and environmental objectives—are made. To refer to the IPA as merely 'a summary of the expected impacts of a policy or project' seems to us to miss the point. Indeed, our fundamental concern with the aviation White Paper is that it uses the language of sustainability without demonstrating a deeper understanding of what is really involved. The DfT claims that it is not actively promoting growth. We therefore consider that there is an urgent need to promote a wider public debate before specific expansion plans are brought forward; and that it would be appropriate for the DfT to subject its plans for airport expansion to a Strategic Environmental Assessment .

6. The growth of aviation remains of immense concern to us in terms of the enormous local environmental quality of life and landscape impacts, the huge forecast increase in carbon emissions, and the need to develop more sustainable lifestyles. There remain fundamental and apparently irreconcilable differences between the DfT and ourselves, and we fully expect to return to these issues on future occasions.

1   EAC, Ninth Report of 2002-03, Budget 2003 and Aviation, HC672. Back

2   DfT, The Government's Response to the Environmental Audit Committee's Report on Budget 2003 and Aviation, Cm 6063. Back

3   EAC, Third Report of 2003-04, Pre-Budget Report 2003: Aviation follow-up, HC 233. Back

4   EAC, Seventh Report of 2003-04, Aviation: Sustainability and the Government Response, HC 623. Back

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Prepared 23 September 2004