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Climate change committee: is airport expansion viable when emissions are capped?

19th February, 2015

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has written to the Airports Commission in response to the recent consultation on shortlisted expansion options at Heathrow and Gatwick. The letter reiterates the Committee’s earlier recommendation that the Airports Commission’s economic analysis of the expansion options should reflect the need to restrain aviation growth in order to manage emissions from the sector. This in effect means that the costs of limiting emissions – which may be transferred to passengers or industry – are included in the cost-benefit analysis for each of the three expansion schemes. The Airports Commission has yet to complete this assessment.

The letter states that passenger growth could be constrained either directly through “limiting demand in a balanced manner across existing capacity” or indirectly through a form of carbon tax or carbon trading system.  AEF’s response to the consultation highlighted how difficult either of these options would be in practice if a new runway was built. Limiting emissions to the level recommended by CCC could require:

  • The introduction of a carbon tax, rising with time to between £329 and £1316 by 2050 according to the Commission’s own analysis,
  • The introduction of planning caps on activity at regional airports
  • Requirement of sectors other than aviation to make cuts in emissions beyond the level currently deemed feasible by the Committee on Climate Change, to allow for further leniency for aviation

The CCC is clear that the Government’s airports policy should reflect the need for aviation emissions to be no higher in 2050 than in 2005, this being the maximum level of emissions that would be compatible with the Climate Change Act. However, the ‘uncapped’ forecasts for national aviation emissions produced by the Airports Commission exceed the 2005 emissions levels under all three possible expansion options. In the absence of some unspecified policy that would limit emissions, therefore, a new runway would result in the UK failing in its legal climate commitments.

DownloadCommittee on Climate Change response to Airports Commission consultation on increasing the UK’s long-term aviation capacity

Image Credit: Ma.Sum via Flickr