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Government must curb growing aviation demand to meet CO2 targets, warns climate committee

The Government has until 2016 to set out an effective plan for limiting aviation emissions, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said today. The UK’s official advisory body on delivery of the Climate Change Act used its 5th ‘Progress Report’ to Government to highlight the need for action on aviation, including constraints on demand.

AEF welcomes the CCC’s intervention as an important reminder of the climate change challenge facing UK aviation today, especially in the context of the airport capacity debate. AEF’s response to the CCC’s call for evidence on the fifth carbon budget highlighted the need for the CCC to reiterate its previous advice on the importance of aviation’s contribution to meeting the UK emissions target and on the need for future passenger demand to be managed. It is encouraging to see the CCC reinforce this message while calling for the Government to set out a policy framework demonstarting how it will manage aviation emissions.

The CCC’s announcement comes on the eve of the Airports Commission’s recommendation for a where to build a new South East runway. While stopping short of explicitly recommending against the Commission’s findings, CCC cautions that “Decisions taken now need to avoid ‘lock-in’ to high carbon pathways” (p.11 of the summary and recommendations) . Since technological options for tackling aviation emissions are limited and aviation will remain dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, the warning has particular relevance for decisions about airport capacity.

AEF has consistently highlighted the gap in policy for delivering the long-term emissions target for aviation that CCC recommends. With the Airports Commission having so far ducked the question, despite admitting that a new runway will further increase the challenge of limiting aviation CO2 to the target level, CCC has placed the ball firmly back in the Government’s court. Today’s report recommends very specifically that by 2016 the Government should “publish an effective policy framework for aviation emissions” that plans for UK 2050 emissions being no higher than 2005 levels (implying around a 60% increase in demand) as well as pushing for strong international and EU policies.

Our report on the climate change impacts of a new runway, published earlier this month, highlighted the scale of the challenge in trying to work South East airport expansion into any convincing policy plan that meets the CCC’s requirements. While in the absence of new airport capacity, the predicted overshoot of the emissions target looks possible to tackle, if expansion was approved at either Heathrow or Gatwick the only options for meeting the target would be draconian restrictions on regional airports or large increases in the cost of flying to manage demand. In reality, we argue, neither approach would be deliverable.


Read the Committee on Climate Change report here.

Relevant sections: recommendation 19 of the summary and recommendations (p. 22) and section 4 in the transport section of the full report to Parliament (p.145)

DownloadAEF response to call for evidence on the fifth carbon budget

Image creditPieter van Marion via Flickr

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