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Labour confirms opposition to a third runway and calls for tougher climate targets for UK aviation

Labour ‘will accept the government’s decision to cancel the third runway at Heathrow’ and will push for a tougher emissions target for the sector than the one announced by her own party in January 2009, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle announced last week. Speaking at a conference of the Airport Operators Association (an event at which AEF Director Tim Johnson spoke on sustainability issues), Eagle described the target to reduce emissions by 2050 back to 2005 levels as a plan agreed with the industry.

“However”, she said, “Ed Miliband and I believe that even the commitment we made in government fails to meet the scale of the challenge we face.

“Frankly, without aviation playing a greater role, we will not achieve by 2050 the broader 80% cut in emissions on 1990 levels to which we have committed. Therefore, future aviation growth must, we believe, go hand in hand with a greater cut in aviation emissions than we agreed when in government.

“We will therefore be urging the Committee on Climate Change to set out what it would mean for aviation to go further than the target we set in government and relieve the burden on other sectors to ensure we can achieve our wider goal for 2050. And then the Carbon Budgets that have been set should be updated accordingly.

“I know the energy and determination with which the industry will rise to this challenge. As you will know, the industry’s own ‘Sustainable Aviation Roadmap’ makes clear that, by 2050, it is possible to get absolute levels of emissions down to levels seen at the turn of the century – even as passenger numbers are projected to grow by a factor of 3. So we all agree that it is possible to do more.”

Calling for a ‘cross-party commission’ on aviation strategy, Eagle argued that aside from Heathrow, no airport expansion options should be off the table. Analysis conducted by AEF for WWF-UK, however, indicates that WWF-AEF airport capacity report at a national level to provide for the maximum level of aviation permissable even under the previous target of emissions stabilisation at 2005 levels by 2050. We very much hope, therefore, that both the Government and opposition will avoid commitment – whether explicit or otherwise – to any new airports policy before determining the role, in quantitative terms, that aviation should play in the UK’s carbon reduction strategy.

AEF recently responded to a consultation by Labour on its future transport strategy in which we highlighted the significance of aviation’s non-CO2 impacts (not currently accounted for by any climate policy) and argued for the importance of developing policy that ensured that aviation emissions did not derail wider UK climate targets; we subsequently met with the shadow aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick to discuss our views. We believe that there are good grounds for a more stringent cap on UK aviation emissions than the 2005/2050 stabilisation target and would very much welcome consideration of possible options by the Committee on Climate Change.

The full text of the speech is available on the AirportWatch website.