Heathrow must deliver ‘real emissions reductions’

Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Councillors say that airports seeking to expand will have to deliver real reductions in carbon emissions if the UK is to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2050.

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Responding to the Government’s consultation on its revised aviation policy they called for a cap on current emissions levels and urged ministers to include the industry in a planned programme of future carbon reduction alongside other sectors of the economy.

They added that the industry could not rely on carbon offset projects in other parts of the world – and that where these were used they should deliver genuine and substantial reductions in emissions and be additional to what would have happened anyway.

Heathrow which this month launched its planning application for a third runway currently produces 20 million tons of carbon emissions in a year. If the third runway goes ahead this will lead to a 58 per cent increase in flights – up from 480,000 currently to 760,000. The Committee on Climate Change is now assuming that total UK emissions from aviation will fall to 30 million tons by 2050.

Council leader Ravi Govindia said: “It’s time to stop treating the aviation industry as a special case. That means challenging the Government’s assumptions about continuing uncontrolled growth which have severe consequences for emissions as well as damaging people’s health through increased exposure to noise and worsening air quality.

“If we are serious as a nation about getting to net zero emissions then all sectors of the economy must play a full part. Otherwise some will end up shouldering an additional burden. The aviation industry cannot be let off the hook.”

Cllr Govindia added that the Government had disadvantaged airports in other parts of the UK by signalling support for expansion at Heathrow (in its 2018 national policy statement) before it had considered the nationwide effects of carbon reduction constraints:

“In a situation where the amount of carbon growth in the economy is being limited the Government should have considered first where such growth would be best sited for the national interest. The current aviation policy document should be doing this. Instead Heathrow has been allowed to forge ahead and grab the lion’s share of the additional carbon for its third runway. That leaves next to no headroom for regional airports to expand which is clearly unfair.”

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said aviation growth cannot be unfettered – their assumption is based on demand growing by 60 per cent between 2005 and 2050. The Government is still assuming 90 per cent growth over this period.

Cllr Govindia concluded: “Whatever efficiency improvements Heathrow can make it is an inescapable fact that 280,000 extra fights year will mean more noise and worsening air quality for local communities – and the emissions produced will mean Heathrow takes more growth from other UK airports and a much bigger share of total UK emissions after other sectors have achieved their reductions.

“It makes no sense for one airport located in the most densely populated part of the country to be able to expand on this scale – national aviation policy must now change to include effective demand management.

”The CCC in its ‘Net Zero’ report said it would be writing to the Government later this year on its approach to aviation. This will be the opportunity to review the airports national policy statement.

Councillors restated their opposition to further Heathrow expansion and their concerns about the climate change impacts as part of their response to the Government’s consultation on its revised aviation policy.

They called on ministers to:

• Accept the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that international aviation emissions should be part of the Net Zero target and should in future be formally included within the UK carbon budget.

• Strengthen the aviation strategy to ensure that it forms part of the wider reduction framework for UK transport .

• Immediately cap aviation emissions at their current level with a view to reducing towards 2050 to ensure that the industry delivers real reductions without recourse to offsets.

• Undertake a detailed study of all aspects of how demand management can be applied to UK air travel as part of the carbon reduction policy framework.

The Committee on Climate Change said in its report ‘Net Zero – the UK’s Contribution to Stopping Global Warming’ that the net-zero target should cover all sectors of the economy, including aviation. The Government subsequently added the target in a new statutory instrument alongside the Climate Change but excluded aviation.

The CCC’s report had acknowledged the emissions targets adopted by the international agencies for aviation and shipping. It said that the scenarios in the report went beyond those targets, suggesting increased ambition and stronger levers will be required in the long run. The CCC will write to the Government later this year on its approach to aviation.

The Department for Transport’s consultation on its revised aviation policy - ‘Aviation 2050 – the future of UK aviation’ - closed on 20 June.

The council’s full response is attached here: https://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/media/4930/aviation_2050_the_future_of_uk_aviation_consultation.pdf