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Green organisations tell Sir Howard Davies that allowing another runway jeopardises UK climate goals

1st November, 2013

Green groups have written to Airports Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies challenging his view that new runway capacity is compatible with the Government’s climate change goals (1).   The letter is a response to a recent speech by Davies which he used to rule out a “no new runway solution” (2).

The eight national environmental NGOs argue that the Airports Commission’s intention to look at additional runway capacity in the South East cannot be reconciled with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendations on how the UK should achieve its national climate goal (3).

The UK organisations to sign the letter are Aviation Environment Federation, the Campaign for Better Transport, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB, Stop Climate Chaos, the Woodland Trust and WWF-UK.

The organisations argue in the letter that the Commission should explicitly recommend keeping aviation emissions at or below 2005 levels by 2050, in line with the CCC guidance.   They argue that even this level of emissions gives aviation a very generous target, when compared to the very deep cuts required of other sectors of our economy.  For the UK to achieve overall cuts of 80% in CO2 emissions in 2050, compared to their 1990 levels, which means cuts of some 85% for other sectors of the economy.

The CCC’s analysis concluded that stabilising UK aviation’s emissions at their 2005 level could translate to a maximum 60% growth in the number of passengers at UK airports.  The NGOs set out four key arguments why no new runway capacity is needed even if passenger numbers are permitted to grow by up to 60%:

  1. Such growth is achievable within existing runway capacity.
  2. Any new infrastructure will require capping of capacity at other airports. This will impact airports both in the South East and the rest of the UK.
  3. Future climate targets will need to take account of aviation’s non-CO2 contribution to climate change. As suggested by the CCC.
  4. Carbon trading in the EU or globally cannot be relied on to bring aviation’s emissions down. 

The group of environmental organisations are urging the Commission to retain a “no new runways” option in its deliberations as the best way of achieving the targets set in the UK Climate Change Act.


Tim Johnson, Director at Aviation Environment Federation said: “The only thing we can predict with certainty is that a new runway will lead to an increase in emissions: but there is no guarantee that we will have the right technological innovation, policy measures and regulations to ensure this doesn’t threaten our climate targets. With sufficient capacity already available to meet growth, this is not a gamble we need to take now.”

For press comment from other NGOs, please ring the AEF office on  020 7248 2223


Notes for Editors

(1). The letter is available here.

(2). Speech given on the 7th October, “Emerging thinking: aviation capacity in the UK”.

(3). The Committee on Climate Change are the Government’s official advisers.  Their analysis concluded that stabilising UK aviation’s emissions at their 2005 level (37.5MtCO2) could translate to a maximum 60% growth in the number of passengers at UK airports.   

For more information:

Tim Johnson, Director, Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) 020 7248 2223   Email: tim [at] aef [.] org [.] uk.

Sarah Clayton, AirportWatch Co-ordinator, 01372 722341