Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 574)



  Q560  Mr Caton: Mr Irvin, I think you began to answer this question. If further studies confirm that condensation trails and cirrus clouds contribute significantly to the climate impact of aviation what would be your preferred approach to mitigation?

  Mr Irvin: The real answer is that the science is so uncertain it is impossible to say firmly what it should be. First, there appear to be positive and negative effects from water vapour formation, some of which militate against global warming and some of which may increase it. That must be sorted out. From everything that I know—it is not a firm scientific conclusion—it is probable that the way to deal with it is to look at the routes which aircraft take, avoiding certain climatic conditions and altitudes in particular parts of the globe. That may be the most effective way to try to deal with it. In the long term we may find there are new fuels and aircraft designs which will also help deal with the problem.

  Q561  Mr Caton: If you take the air traffic management approach that you have just suggested—re-routeing and altering traffic in that way—does it not create problems for living up to the growth predictions that you have made?

  Mr Irvin: The answer is that we do not quite know; the science is very uncertain. I doubt that rerouteing to avoid certain climatic conditions in certain areas, provided it can be done effectively by the air traffic control people, will affect the total figures in the way that perhaps you suggest. We do not know the answer to that at the moment; the science is still under investigation.

  Q562  Mr Caton: To return to the emissions trading scheme, the Government has always given its support to the ETS with the proviso that if progress on including aviation in the ETS is too slow it is prepared to act unilaterally or bilaterally. Has the Government given you any indication of what it means by "too slow"?

  Mr Dowds: The short answer is no. Clearly, that is a judgment that it will make. What we have is a common understanding with the Government about what we think is possible. We are still hoping that aviation can come into the EU trading scheme by 2008 or shortly thereafter, and certainly the expectation is that we can get it up and running and becoming effective before the next Kyoto round in 2013.

  Mr Irvin: In the previous session a witness said that if we missed 2008 for inclusion it would be 2012 before anything could happen. We very much want to go for 2008 and we are pressing for it. Our understanding is that there is no legal or practical impediment to entering the scheme between those years, 2008-12, so we could go in sooner.

  Q563  Mr Caton: For instance, the Aviation Environment Federation suggests that the start date for including aviation emissions would be 2010 at the very earliest and, more likely, 2013, which is a date that has been mentioned before. Why do you believe it takes that view and you are much more hopeful?

  Mr Dowds: Truthfully, you would have to ask them. Obviously, we maintain our contacts with the Government and we have worked closely with it in the run-up to the UK presidency to try to ensure it is understood that it is the right thing to do. We continue those contacts. Our best understanding is that it is possible, but at the end of the day the Government will have to conduct those negotiations and ultimately we will have to rely on the Government to deliver it.

  Q564  Joan Walley: Are you not part of the Aviation Environment Federation? Do you have no links with them?

  Mr Dowds: The answer I believe is no.

  Mr Irvin: We are not members but we have links with it and we deal a good deal with the AEF. In 2003 BAA initiated a group to examine the involvement of aviation in the EU ETS system and the AEF was represented in that group. Therefore, we worked jointly with AEF in that group, as did the UK Government, the European Union and airlines. That group commissioned research by Oxera on which we pressed for aviation to be included. We are putting a lot of effort into getting aviation involved in 2008. We have agreement across Europe through ACI Europe, which is the airports federation throughout Europe, and this year we have the agreement of ACI World in favour of the principle that aviation should be involved in emissions trading.

  Q565  Mr Caton: If you fail to get that earlier date and the AEF is proved to be right, or near right, is the UK aviation industry prepared to do anything else to reduce emissions until we get into the ETS?

  Mr Irvin: We are already doing things to reduce emissions. First, aircraft technology and aircraft movements are improving and from aviation we see an improvement of 1 to 2% a year in fuel efficiency. In terms of consistent improvements that is not to be sniffed at. We as airport operators are doing an enormous amount to try to cut the emissions that we control. We have a target to reduce our CO2 emissions by 15% from energy used at airports versus passengers increasing by about 70%. Irrespective of that we are making quite big efforts to achieve reductions in the meantime. Emissions trading will give all the more incentive to do that and it also means we will find more effective ways to reduce emissions in the long term.

  Mr Paling: At Manchester we are taking similar steps. We have set a target reduction of 10% in absolute terms in energy use, which equates to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions per passenger. It is a huge challenge and one that we are well on the way to meeting in terms of introducing new energy efficiency measures. We have also worked with Eurocontrol and a number of airlines on something called continuous descent approach. Manchester was a trial site. That as well as a number of noise benefits can also deliver fuel savings which translate into CO2 savings. We shall be adopting those procedures at Manchester at night in the next couple of months with a view to seeing how they work and expanding it. We are very active in trying to reduce CO2 emissions.

  Q566  Emily Thornberry: You would not expect to come before us without our asking about the report of the Tyndall Centre and to get your comments upon it. It appears that by the middle years of this century all other sectors of the economy will need to emit zero CO2 in order to fund current increases in aviation, if the Department for Transport is right. That alarms us and other sectors. I have received something from the NFU which says that UK agriculture cannot combat climate change alone. The idea that aviation will continue to increase in this way and that other sectors have to cut back to zero to support it is alarming. What do you say?

  Mr Dowds: By way of opening remarks, we are aware of the Tyndall Centre report and the fact that it ran a number of scenarios. We also realise that the one you referred to, which is often quoted, is the most extreme scenario that it came up with. We just need to understand it as we begin to deal with the supposed implications of that scenario. We do not think that the level of aviation growth that it predicts, which basically says that there will be unfettered capacity provided to meet demand while other sectors are being limited and the number of runways provided will be as necessary, is a realistic scenario.

  Mr Irvin: Not to be taken by surprise, I have a copy of the report of the Tyndall Centre so obviously I am aware of it. It would be alarming if all of it were true. Obviously, a lot of interesting work has gone into it, but it depends on the assumptions that you make. It makes some very contentious assumptions, rather like The Da Vinci Code.

  Q567  Emily Thornberry: Do you say it is the same as The Da Vinci Code? Can we quote you on that?

  Mr Irvin: No, but, in the same way, if one makes certain assumptions one can perhaps go in the wrong direction. If one assumes that there will be virtually unlimited growth in one sector and a 60 to 80% reduction everywhere else over a number of years it is true that eventually the two points will meet, but if one looks at its forecasts for passenger numbers they are nearly double what the DfT and our forecasting people expect by 2050. It is about double the number of passengers per annum for the UK. It applies variously 2.7 times and 3.5 times radiative forcing without accepting that there may be any radiative forcing from any other part of the economy, so it just counts CO2 from the rest of the economy. Therefore, it is not comparing like with like. As to radiative forcing, the report itself says: "It should be noted that there is very substantial uncertainty and disagreement surrounding both the size of the factor that should be used as well as the method of simply uplifting carbon values and comparing these with carbon emission profiles. Strictly speaking, such a comparison does not compare like with like." I think that is a very good warning. That was the sort of warning that the IPCC gave but people tended to overlook when the Tyndall Centre published its figures. Another interesting point I noticed in the assumptions on page 43 is that it uses a very coarse rule of thumb to calculate runway and passenger equivalents. It states: "One can say that one new standard length runway will accommodate some 35,000 to 40,000 passengers per year." At Heathrow we have probably over 60 million passengers a year on two runways. That says to me that it has not been peer reviewed and has probably not been proof read properly. It is a pretty fundamental mistake to build into its calculations.

  Q568  Joan Walley: One of the matters that we want to get to the heart of is that there are other sectors which will have to make huge cuts in emissions, including for example ceramics to name but one. By the time one gets round to any kind of scheme there will already have been allocations and the pressure on you will not be the same. Why is it right that other sectors should take a much greater burden than the one that you are taking now?

  Mr Dowds: I am not sure we share the conclusion at which you have arrived in posing the question that somehow the job is done by the time aviation gets its act together and becomes involved. We believe that it will be much more difficult than that. The truth of the matter is that different industries find it easier to make savings in their carbon emissions.

  Q569  Joan Walley: I will tell that to my ceramics manufacturers.

  Mr Dowds: I said that they would find it easier than aviation; I did not say that it was easy. The beauty of the emissions trading scheme is that it recognises and rewards and it incentivises those who find it less easy to discover ways to compensate for it. Ultimately, we see the emissions trading scheme as one which will allow other industries to sell allowances that they do not require because they have made greater progress than aviation. Aviation will have to pay for those. As time passes it is easy to imagine a scenario in which progress becomes more difficult, the scarcity of spare allowances becomes greater and the cost of buying them will rise. That will internalise for aviation the cost of climate change. We believe that all of that is appropriate and that it will have an ultimate effect on aviation both in terms of the cost of flying and almost certainly on the total level of demand. What we are arguing is that it is a much more efficient and effective mechanism than taxation or national or regional initiatives to deal with what is a global problem.

  Q570  Joan Walley: Do you have any idea of what level of carbon credits UK aviation should be receiving?

  Mr Irvin: We do not have those figures because they will be worked out by the European Commission.

  Q571  Joan Walley: Can you give us a feel of what you think it should be?

  Mr Dowds: We do not have a figure. If that makes us inadequate I am sorry, but we did not arrive here today with an absolute figure.

  Q572  Joan Walley: Are you not proposing any figure?

  Mr Dowds: We will engage with government when it is in a position to start discussing with our industry what the level should be. Clearly, we expect a challenging target vis-a"-vis the current level of emissions that aviation generates. We expect, therefore, that that would decrease over time and pressure on aviation will increase as it tries to meet it.

  Q573  Emily Thornberry: Your evidence seems to give the impression that you are looking forward to this scheme being introduced in the next couple of years. If that is right you must be thinking in terms of figures by now. You are not sitting back to wait to see what Gordon Brown suggests?

  Mr Dowds: I am unaware of any particular figure. We have not calculated one.

  Q574  Joan Walley: If you have any information on that we may find it helpful. Finally, do you think that when we get round to determining what should be aviation's share of carbon credits they should be given away free or there should be auctions? Do you have any thoughts or propositions on that?

  Mr Dowds: Again, the short answer is that we do not think it matters too much as long as it is a level playing field. We do not think there is a fair case for arguing that all other forms of industry should get them for free and because aviation is special it should be charged for them. If there is any particular mechanism which with more thought seems to make better sense than giving them away free, fine, but all we ask is that it is done on an industry-wide level playing field.

  Mr Paling: Manchester as well as a number of BAA airports are very familiar with the scheme because we are in it in terms of energy generation on site. We have been in the scheme for over a year now, so we are familiar with how it works on that basis.

  Joan Walley: We have to bring this to a close. You have been very generous with your time. Thank you very much.

previous page contents

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 7 August 2006