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AEF Newsletter: International aviation to be included in UK carbon budgets and airports’ cumulative impacts

4th May, 2021

Government will legislate to include international aviation and shipping in UK carbon budgets

The UK Government has announced, for the first time, it will include the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping (IAS) emissions in its carbon budgets and in its binding target to achieve net zero by 2050. This means the entire UK aviation sector will also be part of the commitment to reduce economy-wide emissions by 78% below 1990 levels by 2035.

AEF has long campaigned for the inclusion of IAS in UK climate law so this felt like a real victory. The Government’s previous approach of creating ‘headroom’ for IAS had allowed emissions from aviation to continue growing. The inclusion of IAS emissions in future carbon budgets will help ensure that the Department for Transport’s net zero commitment is delivered, and that the aviation industry is held to account for its own net zero promise.

The missing link now between the new legislation and aviation reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is a policy plan, which we hope to see outlined in the Government’s long-awaited aviation net zero consultation expected around the end of May.

Public support for green policy

Perhaps Government should be less hesitant about the role of carbon pricing and taxation to help achieve net zero aviation emissions by 2050, as it seems a majority of the British public would support financial policy measures to drive down emissions. According to a recent poll, ‘around 60% of the public are willing to see the costs of domestic and international air travel rise’. And it appears more people support taxes on air travellers than on any other sector.

It was disappointing, therefore, that Government recently announced domestic air passenger duty may be lowered, seemingly believing a good way to support UK tourism is to encourage people to fly to their destination. You can comment on this and the whole package of tax proposals set out in the Treasury’s consultation using the link at the end of this newsletter. But with a commitment to ensure at least the same level of overall revenue from APD, let’s hope for some better ideas from Government soon on how to make sure the aviation sector makes a fair contribution to tax revenues as well as meeting its environmental costs… read more

Pressure mounts to ‘call in’ airport expansion plans

In the absence of effective national policy on airport capacity and climate impacts, there have been increasing calls for Government to intervene in airport expansion decisions.

Currently, airport planning applications for capacity increases less than ten million passengers per annum (or 10,000 freight flights) are considered at a local level. Research by AEF finds, however, that if all current airport expansion plans were approved, including those to be determined by Government, it would increase total aviation CO2 emissions by around nine million tonnes per annum by 2050 compared to the level already forecast. Even without expansion on today’s levels, total aviation CO2 emissions are expected to be well above the Climate Change Committee’s assumption that aviation emissions will be no higher than 23Mt C02 by 2050.

Recent planning applications at Leeds and Southampton airports were approved by their local councils. However, effective campaigns launched by local campaign groups GALBA and AXO Southampton asking the Secretary of State to ‘call-in’ the airports’ planning applications, have seen plans for both Leeds-Bradford Airport and Southampton Airport expansion put on hold.

The Government must take a strategic overview of the climate impact of the proposals rather than leave it up to individual local authorities, AEF told the Guardian. The cumulative impacts of regional airports will jeopardise the UK’s ability as a whole to achieve net zero we said on BBC Radio 4.’s Today Programme. Until and unless there is guidance on how to consider cumulative carbon impacts, AEF is calling for a moratorium on airport expansions.

Claim new fuel from waste will massively cut aviation emissions dangerously misleading

As research and development into zero carbon energy options is expected to ramp up in order to achieve net zero emissions, we should beware of misleading claims about fuel and technological developments. A recent report suggested that new fuel from waste could reduce emissions from flying by up to 165%… In fact, these savings are as a result of preventing methane emissions that would otherwise arise from landfill. Once burnt, the emissions that the fuel would generate would actually be higher than from burning conventional fossil fuels, AEF found… read more

AEF launches interactive aircraft noise map

AEF has launched a new interactive map showing case studies of people’s experiences of aircraft noise both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, from people unable to make themselves heard over aircraft noise in Glasgow, to airport operations in Southend that leave those living nearby unable to sleep…

AEF also responded to the first part of the Government’s night flight consultation, recommending a ban on night flights at designated London airports, and asking for evidence of the claimed benefits of night flights to the UK economy. We are now preparing our response to the second part of the consultation, which could inform a national night noise policy. The second part of the consultation closes on 31st May… read more

In other news

New research confirms previous findings that community reaction is influenced more by the number of movements (or overflights) experienced, rather than their relative loudness… read more

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations near Heathrow and Gatwick have been half pre-pandemic levels… read more

Evidence suggests that business travel is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels, as EU’s largest banks announce plans to slash business travel permanently by as much as 50%.

French lawmakers vote to abolish domestic flights on routes that can be covered by train in under 2.5 hours… read more

What’s coming up?

31st May 2021: Part 2 of government consultation on night flight restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports beyond 2024, plus national night flight policy closes 

14th June 2021: Government consultation on aviation tax reform closes 

In the coming months: Transport Decarbonisation Plan, aviation net zero consultation, and a consultation on a possible sustainable aviation fuels mandate are all anticipated before the summer break.

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