Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

My view is that we have to make a significant number of journeys by more fuel-efficient and more affordable trains as soon as we can. What plans do the Government have for developing the replacement

8 Mar 2007 : Column 418

high-speed train, which they have taken in-house? How much more energy-efficient will it be than the existing trains, which are currently being “refreshed”—that is the word that is used? Will people be able to afford to travel on the trains that we provide? I am not concerned here with businessmen on expenses; I am asking whether ordinary people will be able to afford to travel by train. It is a plain fact that it is much cheaper to travel by air than it is to travel on the railways as they are currently constituted.

What about electrification? Does the Minister share the views that were expressed elsewhere by the Minister for railways that the electrification of railways is expensive and adds to the complexity of the network? I fancy that those are words from people trying to defend their bonuses, which are based on the public performance monitor of railways, and do not take account of the fact that if you electrify a railway you will have some disruption while you are doing it. Short-term issues, like people’s bonuses, should not be taken into account.

If we look at the map of Europe between 2010 and 2020—I am not looking as far forward as the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, did—the high-speed lines will reach Berlin, Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy, Malaga on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, and Lisbon. Sadly, though, in Britain we will only have a high-speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel. There are no plans that I know of to develop that sort of travel here.

We need an attractive, affordable and climate-friendly alternative to reduce our dependence on the aeroplane for short-haul journeys. All I am asking—this is another subject the committee might like to consider—is whether there is a potential to develop an alternative to aviation here. I am not entering any special pleas for anybody on the railway; I am just saying that we cannot go on letting aviation use all the available carbon. Other people will want some, however efficient aviation may be.

I now turn to airports as emitters of pollution. In reading the report, which I did most carefully, I noticed that BAA announced in its evidence to the committee with some pride that it was among the 20 top consumers of energy in the country—that is not including flying; that is just the airports. There must be strong incentives for such companies to cut down the amount of energy they use because they will presumably be able to sell it in this emissions trading scheme to the airlines that use the airports. We cannot afford it. I am not necessarily qualified to say whether we should build new airports, but those that we are modernising and building should at least be more energy efficient. It should be no source of pride to boast that you are in the top 20 energy consumers. I would rather see companies boast that they were nearer the bottom.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that there are a huge number of cars, coaches and lorries that use the airports and often park there in enormous car parks on land that is very scarce and which we should use for something else. Getting to the airport by rail is difficult and expensive. If any noble Lords have used trains such as the Gatwick Express or the Heathrow

8 Mar 2007 : Column 419

Express, they will know that they have to part with a considerable amount of money each time. But many of the travellers going to the airports are going there specifically, particularly to Stansted, to catch low-cost airlines. So obviously money is an important factor in their decision.

Some people get bargain fares on the plane. However, I was amazed when reading BAA’s plans for the expansion of Stansted to see some extra provision of journeys from London, at the expense of many local commuters, but that the service offered to the north of England would be one train an hour for half the day. It stays at that level even after the airport has been expanded. BAA, which employs expensive and I assume competent economists, never takes the question of the fare into account when making judgments about how many people will access the airport by railway. That is a fundamental flaw.

I hope that there will be real moves to encourage the use of rail. We should attack the question of price because that is an important issue. We should also attack the massive expansion of car parks.

I shall turn briefly to freight. Much short distance air freight, as is well known, travels by road. We must redouble efforts to see that that freight is sent by rail. Some time ago there were proposals for a new freight terminal near London Airport at Colnbrook, but they were turned down at a planning inquiry. I was never completely certain why because any description of that site as greenfield must have been made by someone who does not know what green fields look like. If that were linked, as it could easily be, to the high speed network in Europe, an awful lot of what is taken by lorry from Heathrow could go by rail. I really believe that an emissions trading scheme including the aviation sector may work, but it will only accommodate much of the growth of civil aviation to which the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, has drawn attention, leaving others to make huge savings. The way in which to make those savings is in the much better and more efficient use of coal, which has been argued from these Benches persistently ever since I have been here by my noble friend Lord Ezra; we can also make them in the home—again, my noble friend Lady Maddock has persistently questioned the Government on how much effort will be put into making homes more energy-efficient. They often receive warm nods from Ministers and even rather patronising replies; but those are areas in which much progress is urgently required if we are to continue flying.

5.30 pm

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, for introducing this very topical issue and for his able chairmanship of his inquiry. It took place over a year ago, so I must admit to being somewhat rusty on much of the evidence. The noble Lord comprehensively covered most of the committee’s major concerns, so I shall not repeat them, but I was intrigued and interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, had to say in his very powerful argument for incentivising rail travel over air travel.

8 Mar 2007 : Column 420

There is no question that combating climate change is the most serious challenge for society and that aviation has a key role to play. While global aviation emissions are not currently a serious problem, it is generally accepted, as both noble Lords said, that they will become one. Some reports claim that aviation emissions account for up to 3 per cent of total EU emissions, and that proportion is expected to double by 2020. Earlier today I was reading the Stern report, which claims that worldwide aviation produces 1.6 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, less than one-sixth of the contribution from road transport. The report estimates that aviation emissions will reach 5 per cent by 2050 if the industry takes no mitigating action. What surprised me is that the shipping industry accounts for as much as 4 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

I certainly welcome the decision to include aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, but I am not surprised that it is unlikely to start before 2011. My hope is that there will ultimately be a global emissions trading scheme that goes beyond that of the European Union, which would embrace all the world’s airlines. Clearly, any legislative proposals will have to be well thought through and sustainable in the long term, on environmental and economic grounds. One recommendation from our report was that all government departments will need to be involved in developing the UK’s analysis of any Commission proposals on the consequences of joining the ETS. In the Government’s response to our report it was confirmed that there is close co-ordination between relevant departments on including aviation in the EU ETS. I also agree with the Government’s response to our report that a balance needs to be struck between the economic, environmental and social impacts of aviation.

The jury is out on how effective the proposals for a directive to include aviation activities in the ETS will be. A recent lead article in the Financial Times claimed that including airline emissions in the European ETS would be neither effective nor efficient. The article claimed that the environment would hardly be improved and the economy would be harmed; it claimed that the reduction in emissions would be a fraction of a per cent, even if the carbon permit price was much higher than it was today, because the resulting increase in air fares would be relatively small and travellers are not very price-sensitive. That is a debatable point. The main effect would be a subsidy to the airline industry of billions of pounds a year. The article went on to say that there were better ways in which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I want to elaborate on that point.

Some of the committee’s witnesses called, in their evidence, for more efficient air-traffic control systems and less circuitous air corridors. I am sure that all noble Lords have been frustrated by those numerous occasions when their flights arrive at their destination on time but are delayed queuing for landing rights.

It became apparent from the evidence of several witnesses that some airlines—I stress “some”—are doing a lot more than others in the design of their aircraft to reduce carbon emissions and to become more fuel-efficient. This point was addressed in

8 Mar 2007 : Column 421

paragraph 226 of the committee’s report, which mentioned that if the aviation industry entered the ETS, technological improvements in the industry would inevitably become even more urgent in order to reduce emissions while maintaining growth in air travel and freight. A more positive development of the clean development mechanism and joint initiative schemes should be encouraged by the EU and by the aviation industry.

The Stern report emphasised the need for multilateral, not unilateral, action on aviation. It emphasised the importance of an economy-wide approach through emissions trading and taxation rather than sectoral targets to deliver the global reductions in emissions that we all need. I mention that in the context of paragraph 241 of our report. Given the United Kingdom’s target for a 60 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2050, the consequences of continued aviation growth for other sectors are likely to be severe. Growth in aviation emissions would be possible only if emissions by other sectors were reduced beyond any contraction in emissions required to meet EU targets by 2050. The most dramatic forecast of the Tyndall Centre is that aviation services for the EU might have to stop growing by 2017.

I have no desire to discuss the economics of grandparenting permits, as I find it all a bit vague. However, I believe that the distribution of CO2 allowances should certainly be set at European rather than national level. What was apparent from the majority of our witnesses, including Defra, was that the impact on passenger air fares, and hence on demand for air travel, would be very modest. Can the Minister advise me whether private jets will be included in the EU ETS? As our report recommended, clarity is needed about present and future policy on the level of permitted carbon emissions, both in total and for the aviation industry.

While I welcome the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS, in reality unless there is a global emissions trading scheme and all airlines are included, the environmental impact is likely to be negligible. Climate change is a global problem which requires a global solution.

5.38 pm

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, for introducing the committee’s report. In contributing to this debate I feel slightly impertinent, as I have no scientific credentials whatever and am not a member of the committee. However, I am greatly interested in the committee’s report on this very important issue. I took particular note—as, it appears, did the noble Lord, Lord St John,—of the evidence submitted by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. As I have done on many occasions, I declare an interest as a resident of Uttlesford, in north-west Essex, and a supporter of the campaign to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport, which is located there.

Including aviation in the ETS should be a valuable step towards addressing the effect of aviation on climate change. My right honourable friend the

8 Mar 2007 : Column 422

Secretary of State for the Environment is clearly relying on it to do the job, judging from his speech earlier this week, in which he said:

However, as noble Lords emphasised, the committee’s report shows that doing so would by no means result in an uncomplicated benefit, particularly given the likely impact on other industries if aviation is included. I reiterate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, on paragraph 241 of the committee’s report. The quotation bears repetition:

My Lords, 2017 is not very far away.

The Tyndall Centre evidence was submitted in October 2005, which, given the speed with which climate change issues have charged up the agenda, feels by contrast quite a long time ago. In the interim, we have had the Stern report and more recently the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Chancellor has introduced a new tax on air travel, and the Government have announced a Bill on climate change, which we expect shortly. However, in spite of these important developments, we are still faced with the unpalatable fact that aviation, while not yet the largest source, is currently the fastest-growing source of carbon and other emissions. If allowed to continue developing at its present rate, it will pose a serious threat to our ability to reduce carbon emissions overall. Dr Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, in his evidence to the committee, said:

that is, growth rates in aviation emissions—

We should bear in mind that carbon emissions are not the only problem. He continues:

The conclusion that Dr Anderson and his colleagues reach, which they expressed to the committee and even more clearly in their own publications, is that the volume of air transport will have to reduce, not increase as is envisaged. In this they are of one mind with the Oxford Environmental Change Institute. Its research, published last summer, makes clear that the Government’s decision, taken in 2002—and, I regret to say, confirmed at the end of last year—to expand UK airport capacity

8 Mar 2007 : Column 423

should be reversed as a major and achievable contribution to reducing traffic. I also agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said about the need to invest in railways to build a more sustainable infrastructure.

When these matters come up for discussion, as they do more and more frequently both in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, I and others who share my views are usually berated for “picking on” or, as my noble friend Lord Woolmer, said “demonising” the aviation industry. The argument goes that singling out the industry for special opprobrium is unfair and counter-productive. As I think the noble Lord, Lord St John, must have seen, only last weekend the Guardian ran a front-page story on the significant volume of carbon emissions now contributed by shipping. Being of, I hope, a generally fair-minded disposition, I would be inclined to take this point seriously were it not for two things, both of which emerge powerfully from the committee’s report.

First, partly because of the long life of aircraft and the huge investment each one represents, the ability and possibly the willingness of the aviation industry to mobilise within a useful time-frame new technologies likely to mitigate the damage caused by aircraft emissions is minimal; even the Secretary of State accepts this. In his speech to which I referred earlier he said that,

They sure do. The committee poses the following question at paragraph 242 of the report:

It seems to me that the answer must be yes, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he thinks so too, but not in the sense that the industry, regarding itself as a special case, should be allowed to continue on its present course unchecked.

The second thing is that the drive for growth, particularly in low-cost air travel—currently being pursued by the air industry with, it appears, scant regard for environmental impacts—runs directly counter to the need for urgent action to address climate change. In every other area of life—energy consumption, road use, recycling and many other issues—we are being urged individually and collectively to take responsibility for the future of the planet. Only aviation proposes to increase its contribution to global warming over the next decade. That cannot be right. I still hope that the Government will take serious note of the issues that the committee has raised and review their policies on aviation before it is too late.

5.46 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I ought to declare an interest as the president of the British Airline Pilots Association. The views I express are not entirely its, but also mine.

This has been a valuable debate so far; I thank my noble friend Lord Woolmer for introducing it. He and I have long known each other, and I have tremendous

8 Mar 2007 : Column 424

regard for his ability, which was on display in his contribution today. I was struck also by the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. He drew attention to the fact that it is cheaper to travel by air than train when it is possible to do so. That illustrates effectively why we have to consider all forms of transport in this debate; we cannot isolate air transport. He also talked about emissions in or around airports. He is entirely right so far as that is concerned, and I invite the Minister to comment on that.

We also heard an invaluable contribution from the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. I entirely agree that it is folly simply to rely on the European emission trading system. We should examine the possibility of further international action. I ask the Minister to reply to that as well.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh is not exactly the friend of all airlines at all times. Nevertheless, she is a friend of mine, but I disagree with her on this issue. We have to be positive about the role of aviation, and she has been long on the indictment of aviation and short on the practical remedies that one could pursue.

Having said all that, I pay tribute to those responsible for this timely and constructive report. As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, argued, there can be no doubt that climate change and its probable effects—certainly in the long term—are extremely worrying, particularly if we take no or inadequate means to address it.

My own belief is that the Government are right in submitting that at present emissions from aviation, viewed globally, do not present a serious problem. But they will, and, as the Government have argued, a balance has to be struck in the longer term between the economic, environmental and social impacts of aviation and its obvious advantages to the travelling public and to the economy of our country.

The Government appreciate the downside of air travel—that is, the impact, especially on the environment—and their views are shared by my own trade union, the British Airline Pilots Association. It is surely right to stress that over time, and as a result of international agreement, aviation, like other modes of transport that display environmental ill effects, must discharge the costs of the damage done to society at large. That balance cannot be achieved forthwith but constructive discussion about the most salient issues should proceed apace both nationally and internationally.

We have an opportunity—after sensible discussion has taken place between government departments with overlapping responsibilities—to join the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. But that means that the Government have to initiate movement rather than simply hope that something will miraculously happen. I am confident that, with the leadership displayed by the Government, that will occur.

The Government have long argued that aviation should be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme—indeed, it is the only game in town at present. But that must be accompanied by substantial

8 Mar 2007 : Column 425

changes in the design of aircraft. More modern aviation can make a real contribution.

The European Union can, and should, lead the way, supported in the not-too-distant future by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, in producing a harmonised cap for aviation, and it should indicate how that can best be shared. Already the ICAO has supported the concept of an open emissions trading scheme for international aviation. That, as the Government argue, requires the airline industry to do its homework by declaring how emissions will operate and how much the airline industry will have to subscribe with regard to abatement costs.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page