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Briefing: Is a new runway compatible with UK climate policy?

7th October, 2014

A major consideration for the next government when considering the recommendations of the Airports Commission will be whether a new South East runway should be ruled out on climate grounds. Our new policy briefing examines this concern and considers what options would be available to a future Government if a new runway is built in order to ensure that the aviation sector plays its part in meeting climate change commitments.

We are publishing our briefing at a time when high profile members of Labour, the Conservatives  and the Lib Dems have all indicated that they remain open to the possibility of an additional runway in the South East. We believe that a new runway would have very significant climate implications that fall outside the remit of the Airports Commission to address.

Briefing summary

The Airports Commission’s analysis has built on the work of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in modelling the increase in demand for flights that can be accommodated while keeping aviation emissions at a level compatible with the Climate Change Act by 2050. Both the CCC and Airports Commission have stated that demand for flights in the UK will have to be restricted to prevent carbon emissions from the aviation sector overshooting this level. However, neither has identified how this can be achieved if a new runway is built, leaving a policy gap that would, we argue, result in the UK’s climate targets being compromised.

If a new runway is built, the available policy options would be to either dramatically increase the cost of flying (by the UK acting alone) or to restrict capacity available at regional and other South East airports to below today’s levels. Both options would be likely to be politically undeliverable. AEF’s view, therefore, is that rather than constructing any new runways, making best use of existing airport capacity continues to be the best approach to managing future aviation demand.

This briefing on the climate change impacts of a new runway is part of our series of briefings on the work of Airports Commission which examines why the question about UK airports should be ‘whether’ and not just ‘where’ to build a new runway.


Download: Airport expansion and climate change: is a new runway compatible with climate policy?

Image Credit: Adrian Underwood via Flickr