The Airports Commission has published its ‘sift criteria’ for short-listing airport capacity options. The Commission’s timetable has 2013 as the period for considering short-term options for improvements in airport capacity (such as possible operational efficiencies at Heathrow) and for considering whether or not there is a need for long-term capacity increases. 2014 has, however, already been set aside for detailed consideration of these long-term options, suggesting an assumption that more capacity will be desirable at some point.
AEF submitted evidence to the Commission arguing that that the criteria must include environmental factors as part of any initial sift rather than regarding these as secondary considerations, and that while climate change considerations are of crucial importance to the question of how much aviation activity takes place in the UK as a whole, the potential climate change implications of one particular airport expansion over another (such as those likely to arise from road and rail access to airports for staff and passengers) are likely to be minimal and should not be overplayed.
We are therefore very pleased that environmental factors are clearly included as key considerations in the published sift criteria, and that climate change is listed both as a strategic consideration and, in the case of considering the different climate impacts of various airport options, a specifically ‘environmental’ one. Proposals will be considered partly on the basis of whether they “support the Government’s wider objectives and legal requirements (for example, support of national and regional economic growth, re-balancing of the economy or alignment with national climate change commitments and global targets)”
The basis on which the last Government proposed for aviation to be included in the UK’s climate change commitments was, we consider, excessively generous to the sector, and should have made allowance for both CO2 and non-CO2 impacts. Even so, the official aviation CO2 forecasts indicate that even with no increase in airport capacity the sector’s emissions will significantly overshoot the level that the Committee on Climate Change has indicated could be compatible with achievement of our 2050 carbon commitments. An increase in total airport capacity should, we argue, be ruled out on this basis.
Alongside its publication of sift criteria, the Commission published details of the members of its expert panel who will give advice to Commissioners on specific questions being addressed. The panel consists very largely of academics from a range of fields.