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Aviation emissions to soar under Airports Commission proposals, new AEF report shows

19th June, 2015

With the Airports Commission expected to announce by the end of this month its recommendation for expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick, AEF has published a new report showing why a new runway at either airport would be incompatible with climate change targets.

The legally binding Climate Change Act requires the UK to limit national carbon emissions to about 160 million tonnes (Mt) per year by 2050 – an 80% reduction on 1990 levels. The government and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), its statutory adviser, say that emissions from aviation should not take up more than a quarter of that figure – 37.5 Mt – by 2050.

Yet the Airport Commission predicts that aviation emissions will exceed this figure even in the absence of new runway capacity and that a new runway would put the target even further out of reach. If aviation blows its budget, other sectors, such as agriculture, would have to shoulder tougher carbon cuts than the CCC considers to be feasible.

To keep aviation emissions at or below 37.5Mt in the future, growth at regional airports will need to be slashed to compensate for a new runway, the report shows. Using Airports Commission data, we highlight that this would mean a massive redistribution of passenger growth to the South East, with all other regions of the UK losing out compared with a ‘no new runways’ scenario. As restrictions on regional airports would be difficult to deliver in reality, the report calls on the Government to reject the Commission’s recommendations pending a proper analysis on the carbon challenge.

The report also covers: the significance of carbon impacts in stopping runway expansion in the past; the relevance of aviation in the context of global discussions about climate change; and the importance of managing aviation demand given limited opportunities for cutting emissions through the use of biofuels or more efficient aircraft.

Download: All set for take off? Aviation emissions to soar under Airports Commission proposals

Image creditMohammad Abdullah via Flickr