Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


1. The aviation White Paper actively promotes a huge growth in air travel over the next 30 years. The environmental impact of this—in particular in terms of emissions and the contribution of aviation to global warming—will be massive. The DfT has failed to recognise this adequately or to accept the disparity between its policy on aviation and the major commitments the Government has given to reduce carbon emissions and develop a sustainable consumption strategy.

2. DfT has implicitly adopted a 'predict and provide' approach which is based on assuming a substantial real decrease in the price of air travel. We are emphatically not arguing for a hairshirt approach or 'pricing people off planes'. But we do feel that the DfT, in conjunction with the Treasury, could have used economic instruments more to moderate the forecast increase in growth and to send out a long-term signal to the aviation industry.

3. The failure of the DfT to give adequate consideration to global warming impacts is reflected in the poor quality of the Integrated Policy Appraisal published as part of the White Paper, and the inadequacy of the Department's economic appraisals. The DfT has recognised the latter by belatedly attempting to include global warming costs in its supporting paper, Aviation and Global Warming. But the analysis is opaque and poorly documented, raising concerns about the consistency of treatment of costs and benefits, and it therefore fails to provide a proper response to our concerns.

4. In addition, by restricting economic appraisal analyses only to the provision of new runways—as opposed to new terminals, runway extensions, and operational improvements to maximise the use of existing runways—the Department has failed to provide an appraisal of the overall environmental impacts resulting from the future increase in air travel which the Government is promoting.

5. The prospects for including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme are uncertain. Given the admission by the DfT that the UK is "ploughing a lonely furrow" in its advocacy of emissions trading, there is little prospect of implementing in the foreseeable future an international emissions trading system to cover aviation emissions. It is therefore disappointing that the UK has not shown leadership by pursuing alternative strategies.

6. Given the Government's expressed desire to incorporate aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System from 2008, we are astonished that the DfT appears to have done no research on some of the key issues which need to be resolved or to model the impact of including aviation in a cross-sectoral emissions trading system. Such research is essential even before any draft proposals can be contemplated. Given the timescales involved, we think it might soon be too late to achieve the target date of 2008.

7. It is by no means obvious that an EU or international emissions trading system can generate sufficient credits to allow aviation to expand as forecast, while at the same time delivering carbon reductions of the order needed. The DfT supporting paper, Aviation and Global Warming, implicitly recognises this potential difficulty. The price of carbon could, in such circumstances, go through the roof—provided there was sufficient political will to maintain targets and enforce penalties.

8. If aviation emissions increase on the scale predicted by the DfT, the UK's 60% carbon emission reduction target which the Government set last year will become meaningless and unachievable. The most we could hope to attain would be about 35%. The DfT admitted that the target would need to be looked at should international emissions be allocated to national inventories—and this can only mean with a view to watering it down.

9. The Government should recognise the difficulties it faces in meeting its 2050 carbon target. If it did so, it would be forced to take more action now and develop an adequate policy response. It should not continue to hope that the solution lies in technological advances as the weight of evidence suggests that the scope for these is limited.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 15 March 2004