15 July 2014

UK cannot go ahead with airport expansion plans and meet climate targets

The UK cannot expand its airport capacity with a planned new runway if the government’s climate change targets are to be met, according to two new reports from environmental groups.

The government has controversial plans in place to build a new runway either at Heathrow or Gatwick or a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

A report released last year from the Airports Commission claimed that the expansions are necessary and will not infringe on carbon reduction targets of 80 per cent by 2050.

However, two reports published on Monday by the conservation charities Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) have said these claims are “not rooted in the real world”.

The RSPB’s Aviation, climate change and sharing the load has queried whether regulatory measures will be enough to limit the aviation sector’s growing emissions.

In the absence of an effective carbon pricing mechanism or a legally binding international agreement to curb emissions from the aviation industry, the report suggests that limiting airport capacity is the only way to meet emissions reduction targets.

The report goes on to outline how more severe emission cuts would need to be required in other industries as part of the governments attempts to meet targets.

Adam Dutton, RSPB economist and author of their report said: “The rest of the economy will be heavily penalised if emissions from aviation are not constrained. We estimate the cost could rise to as much as £8 billion per year and maybe more. When the rest of society is already being asked to decarbonise by at least 80 per cent this is neither fair nor efficient.”

The second report, Implications of South East expansion for regional airports, is authored by the AEF and commissioned by WWF-UK.

It explores how building the new runway would mean that airport capacity would need to be cut in other areas of the UK to keep emissions in check.

Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the AEF, said: “The Airports Commission and future governments have a choice to make. Either allow aviation expansion in the South East and heavily constrain regional airports or let regional airports grow within the capacity they already have but don’t build any new runways. But climate change limits mean that you can’t do both.”

The two reports were launched today in a meeting at the House of Commons, chaired by Joan Walley, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.

These latest findings are a blow to the government after a separate report warned that the third option that was being considered – a new airport in the Thames Estuary – would have a devastating environmental impact.

The Airports Commission concluded that key ecological sites would be destroyed and the project would have left the government with a £2 billion bill to relocate wildlife.

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