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Climate Bill to demand that international aviation emissions are ‘taken account of’, but not included in budgets

The Climate Change Bill recently passed its third reading in the House of Commons. Following the announcement that the government would be accepting in full the interim advice of the Committee on Climate Change, the vote on Tuesday 28th October 2008 (463 votes in favour to 3 against) backed many key goals for environmental campaigners, with amendments such as a target of 80% emissions reductions by 2050 instead of the original 60%, statutory requirements for British companies to report their emissions, and a stated commitment from the Government to make measurable year-on-year progress towards its targets all passing.

Campaigners had also been pushing for emissions from international aviation and shipping to be included in the bill. Speculation of a backbench revolt by Labour MPs asking for the inclusion of these emissions, and the tabling of a strong amendment by Nigel Griffiths MP (Labour) which won enough support to threaten the government’s majority, led to the last minute tabling of Amendment 25 by Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy, Ed Miliband, which was voted through.

This adds a new clause to the bill placing a duty on the Committee on Climate Change to advise the Secretary of State on the consequences of treating UK emissions from international aviation and shipping as though they were covered by the bill. A further amendment to Clause 11 requires both the Secretary of State and the Committee on Climate Change to ‘take into account’ predicted emissions from international aviation and shipping when setting the future budgets. These amendments are in line with the controversial advice given by the Committee on Climate Change that aviation and shipping emissions be included in the national 80% target for 2050, but not in the 5-yearly budgets that will ensure its delivery.

Nothing in the bill ensures that international aviation will be included in the UK’s carbon budgets. This means there will be no requirement for aviation to reduce its emissions; they merely need to be reported. Other industries will be tasked with making up for any increase in aviation emissions, thus threatening the achievement of the UK’s emissions reduction targets.

The government’s reluctance to legislate for the aviation industry to clean up its own act means that the public at large – including those who never fly – will have to pay for aviation’s costs, because universally used industries such as energy will have to scale back or put in place tougher mitigation measures. It is clear from CAA statistics that income correlates very closely with flying – those who are richer fly more. Poorer members of society, including elderly people struggling with fuel bills, will have to cover the environmental costs of those travelling on tax-free fuelled, non-environmentally accountable airlines.

Sectoral carbon budgets are essential if emissions reductions are to be made. Exempting one of the UK’s fastest growing sources of emissions will dramatically undermine their impact. Aviation emissions in the UK have grown by 90% between 1990 and 2004, and with no game-changing technological innovations in sight, massive air traffic growth of the kind envisaged in the Air Transport White Paper 2003 will inevitably lead to further emissions increases, at a time when other industries are having to reduce their emissions.

There is increasing pressure on the Government to stop avoiding difficult decisions about demand management through price mechanisms, taxes or the management of airport capacity. These have to be made if aviation is to contribute to reducing its climate change impacts. Relying on the European emissions trading scheme (ETS) without developing appropriate policies to support it is likely to comprehensively fail to reduce emissions. Cap-and-trade schemes are only as good as the cap, and the ETS cap for aviation currently falls far short of what would be needed to deliver an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

The Climate Change Bill has gone from a position of explicitly excluding international aviation emissions to one of requiring the Government to at least take account of them and, by 2013, to either include them in the budgets or issue an explanation of why they have been unable to do so. We continue to believe, however, that for genuine, effective action on climate change, international aviation must be included in UK carbon budgets and that the government must be open to revising plans to expand UK airports in order to deliver the carbon reductions necessary.

The Bill is going back to the Lords for consideration of the Commons clauses added on the 17th of November. We would encourage our supporters to lobby Lords to strengthen the requirements placed upon aviation, as well as restrictions on how much of the UK’s reduction can be made through purchasing ‘offsets’ from other countries, and send the bill back to the Commons for revision.