Skip to content

What important people said about the Aviation White Paper

In May and June 2004 there was flurry of comment about the environmental implications of the aviation White Paper. In May the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a House of Commons committee, published its report. In June, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), a government agency, published its views. And on the 8th June there was a long debate in the House of Commons where many MPs made their views very clear.

The reports and especially the debate are long but interesting. We thought that members would like to see some of the ‘juciest’ quotes from these three sources.

In May and June 2004 there was flurry of comment about the environmental implications of the aviation White Paper. In May the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a House of Commons committee, published its report. In June, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), a government agency, published its views. And on the 8th June there was a long debate in the House of Commons where many MPs made their views very clear.The reports and especially the debate are long but interesting. We thought that members would like to see some of the ‘juciest’ quotes from these three sources.

In reality, little that is completely new in what has been said. AEF and others have made most of the points, both before and after the White Paper. Indeed, we have seen our points quoted almost verbatim on occasions. But the important thing is that these statements are now being increasingly made by important and influential people such as MPs and the government’s own advisors.

The government will find it harder to ignore all these people than organisations like the AEF. It all adds to the growing pressure on the government to address properly the major environmental impacts that aviation already has and, even more importantly, the disastrous effects the government’s desired growth would have.

As the quotes show, those people are deeply concerned by the threats from aviation and are singularly unimpressed with the way the government is addressing the issues.

We set out below a selection of the comments. They are grouped into subject areas, although categorisation is not always clear-cut. EAC refers to the Environmental Audit Committee and the SDC refers to the Sustainable Development Commission. Where a name is given, this refers to an MP speaking in the House of Commons debate.

Demand and Growth

“A policy which estimates future demand and then aims to satisfy almost all of it is self-evidently based on a ‘predict and provide’ approach. The Department .. should explain why it believes it is wrong to describe the White Paper in that way ..” [EAC]

“We recommend that the inclusion of aviation in the EUETS [EU Emissions Trading System] is secured before the Department for Transport sanctions any airport expansion, not least so that it can be assessed whether such expansion is really necessary and feasible.” [SDC]

“We have to get away from predict and provide and to say that enough is enough.” [Paul Marsden]

“I hope that the Government will resist the temptation wilfully to distort the Committee’s views on aviation. For example, the Government response implies that we [EAC] advocate that the growth of aviation “should be stopped in its tracks”, which is simply untrue. .. bearing in mind aviation’s impact on the environment, which nobody doubts, and the current and likely future state of the industry, it would simply be responsible to plan for a reduced rate of growth.” [Peter Ainsworth]

Sustainable Development

The Department for Transport must publish a formal statement of what it understands by sustainable consumption in the context of air travel. As part of this statement, it should explain how the projected growth from 180 mppa to 476 mppa by 2030 can be reconciled with the commitment made by the UK Government in Johannesburg to encourage more sustainable approaches to consumption.” [EAC]

“.. aviation policy remains the most glaring example of the failure of Government to put sustainable development at the heart of policy making.” [EAC]

“In his Foreword to the Sustainable Development Strategy, the Prime Minister makes clear that its objective is “to ensure that our economy, our society and our environment grow and develop in harmony”.. In contrast to these declarations, the White Paper is entirely couched in terms of environmental sacrifice for economic gain.” [SDC]

“The environmental sacrifice does not just consist of increased greenhouse gas emissions, but also includes increased noise, increased local air emissions and despoliation of the countryside around sites proposed for airport expansion. The expansion is justified entirely in terms of the economic benefits it will bring, which are estimated to exceed the environmental and other costs incurred.” [SDC]

“But the whole point of sustainable development, in the Government’s formulation of the concept, is that developments should benefit both the economy and the environment – and achieve social progress. The proposals in the ATWP dramatically fail on this assessment to be consistent with the Government’s strategic commitment to sustainable development.” [SDC]

“.. violates no fewer than five out of the six Principles of the Sustainable Development Commission:
* Putting Sustainable Development at the Centre.
* Valuing Nature
* Fair Shares
* Polluter Pays
* Adopting a Precautionary Approach”

Taxes and charges

” It is an extraordinary anomaly that one of the most serious and rapidly growing contributors to climate change should be so lightly taxed throughout the world.” [SDC]

” .. we should be working extremely hard – this Government certainly are not – to introduce a new form of tax on kerosene, which will begin to impact on airlines.” [Paul Marsden]

“The Government have, of course, consulted extensively on the fiscal measures that can be exploited to ensure that aviation pays for the damage that it causes, yet for all the consultation there seems to be precious little progress. The Government have, to all intents and purposes, put all their eggs in the emissions trading basket. They must look again at the issue of aviation fuel taxation, because there are without question enormous disparities between how we tax different modes of transport. It seems that the air transport sector is getting off pretty lightly at present, a situation that is simply not sustainable in a sustainable aviation policy.” [John Barrett]

“Pending the inclusion of aviation into emissions trading schemes, an emissions charge should be levied on all flights: first, by the UK Government on domestic flights (to show it is serious about the issue); second, by the EU (with revenues being re-allocated to Member States) on all (not just intra-EU) flights.” [SDC]

Emissions trading

“The Government have, to all intents and purposes, put all their eggs in the emissions trading basket.” [John Barrett]

“We expressed our astonishment at the lack of essential research to underpin the incorporation of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System.” [EAC]


“We are constantly told that an average noise level of 57 dB marks the approximate onset of significant community annoyance-that is a nice phrase. However, aircraft noise is not average, and it is disingenuous of the Government to exclude from consideration early morning hours during which the bulk of the night flights disturb my constituents.” [Jenny Tonge]

“On noise, although 57 dB might be okay in a busy urban area with a lot of background noise, it is not good in a rural village in east Leicestershire.” [Alan Duncan]

Air pollution

On air quality, will the Government be solely guided by the European Union statutory limits on NOx emissions, or will they also take account of ground level ozone, which, as the Minister knows from the King’s College London studies published this week, already reaches dangerous levels across west London on 70 days in the year.” [Vincent Cable]

“It is not an exaggeration to say that unless immediate action is taken, we are moving ineluctably towards a major air poisoning crisis in west London.” [John McDonnell ]

“Already, a Select Committee has established, from estimates from the scientific community, that there are between 12,000 and 24,000 deaths every year from air pollution.” [Paul Marsdon:]

Climate change

” .. particularly weak in its assessment of climate change impacts and the difficulties posed by the growth in aviation emissions in the light of the Government’s 60% carbon reduction target.” [EAC ]

” .. fails to take on board the new direction in policy initiated by the Government’s Energy White Paper; while the growth proposed in aviation – even on a constrained basis – would wreck the aspirations it contains.” [EAC]

“We reject the accusation contained in the Government response that our figures for the impact of aviation in relation to other UK emissions are misleading and inappropriate. The underlying truth is not in dispute: that the global warming impacts from aviation are forecast to increase massively just as we are striving to make huge cuts in emissions from all other sectors of the UK economy.” [EAC]

“Given the priority apparently being accorded to the need to tackle global warming, we find it bizarre that the Government response, in calculating aviation in relation to other UK emissions, assumes that there will be no reduction in greenhouse gases, other than carbon dioxide, over the next 50 years.” [EAC]

“.. all of the past and projected changes in efficiency are dwarfed by the impact of the continuous growth of air traffic throughout the world.” [SDC]

“.. There is a serious risk that the failure to reshape aviation policy to take proper account of the seriousness of the climate change threat may undermine the UK Government’s leadership role on climate change and its ability to carry conviction through leading by example.” [SDC]

” .. there is wide consensus that the White Paper, if implemented, will run every risk of wiping out all the Government’s progress on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and could undermine their entire climate change strategy. [John Barrett]

“It is important not to forget the nitrogen oxide and water vapour pollution produced by air transport, emissions that make a considerable additional contribution to global warming. The White Paper makes no mention whatever of those.” [John Barrett]

Historic environment

“To protect the historic environment, measures to manage demand – and therefore reduce the need for increased airport capacity – are crucial.” [Paul Marsden, quoting English Heritage]

Natural Environment (biodiversity)

“In the last century, nearly half of our remaining ancient semi-natural woodland was cleared and replanted with conifers or lost forever to agriculture or development. If the White Paper on air transport is anything to go by, it seems that we are starting the new century having learnt nothing and are heading down a similarly destructive route.” [Paul Marsden, quoting Woodland Trust]

Environmental Impacts

“The rapid growth of air traffic throughout the world is one of the most severe threats to the global environment today. It causes noise and air pollution, and exacerbates local traffic congestion on the land. But above all, it is making a rapidly increasing contribution to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and to the climate change which they are causing.” [SDC]

“We should put the environment at the centre of this agenda, rather than regarding it as a bolt-on.” [Paul Marsden]

“It is no good MPs saying that the environment is important, but that we should move ahead and ignore it.” [Laura Moffatt]

“We calculated the environmental impacts of the forecast growth in aviation to be minus £42 billion (net present value) ..” [EAC]

Rail substitution

“One of the most disappointing aspects of the White Paper is how little it says on air-rail substitution. I find it extraordinary that a Government who espouse the importance of an integrated transport policy seem to view air transport policies as separate – almost in isolation – from other modes of transport. The fact is that short-haul flights, which make up an enormous amount of the traffic arriving at and departing from Edinburgh airport, are the most polluting. By providing good, reliable, affordable high-speed rail links between north and south, we would create an alternative, much more environmentally friendly, way of connecting Scotland with London and the south of England.” [Paul Barrett]

Related articles

Aviation 2050: AEF's response

New AEF briefing: Why Heathrow can’t solve its carbon problem (and the trouble with offsets)

The draft Aviation Strategy: an environmental overview

Government sets out draft plans for UK aviation policy

Heathrow air quality costs two to four times higher than previously thought, says minister

Economic and environmental concerns about Scottish Government's Air Passenger Duty plans

Government must curb growing aviation demand to meet CO2 targets, warns climate committee

Airports Commission to publish air quality consultation

Why last week's court ruling on air pollution could stop airport expansion

Infographic: Why airport expansion risks the UK's climate change commitments