14th December 2006

Forget Climate Change – Let’s Fly!

The Progress Report on the 2003 Air Transport White Paper (ATWP) published today (14 December) makes clear that the Government remains committed to its ‘rush for growth’ approach to airport expansion.  Indeed, the report sends a very strong signal that the pressure is now on to increase capacity at Heathrow as the number one priority.

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) takes no consolation from the switch of emphasis to Heathrow, nor from the acceptance that a second Stansted runway is now unlikely before 2015 at the earliest and that its timing will be subject to the commercial judgement of airport operator BAA and the planning process.  This contrasts with the ATWP date of 2011/12 and the previous priority attached to building a second Stansted runway before any new Heathrow runway.  Nevertheless the Government’s continued commitment to a ‘rush for growth’ approach leaves the community around Stansted still very much under threat.

As expected the ATWP Progress Report contains many fine words about the need to tackle climate change but contains nothing new of any substance.  Once again, the Department for Transport (DfT) stands out as Whitehall’s rogue elephant paying only lip service to the warnings on climate change from Stern, Tyndall, Oxford University Environmental Change Institute and others.  The DfT continues to take the old-fashioned view that its key role is to promote the interests of all transport activities within its sphere of control and none more so than that of the aviation industry.

Once again, the DfT cynically claims that including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) will be the panacea which will reconcile its support for the rapid growth in aviation with the urgent need to tackle climate change.  However, the Government and the aviation industry are fully aware that emissions trading will be totally meaningless as a mechanism for addressing the unsustainable growth in aviation.  SSE has seen the EU proposal for including aviation in the EU ETS and this reveals that even the EU Commission accepts that the proposal will have virtually no impact on the rate of growth in air travel.

The recent report carried out on behalf of the Government by Sir Nicholas Stern, former Chief Economist of the World Bank concluded that the climate change impact of UK aviation is at least £6bn a year and possibly as high as £12bn a year.  The DfT’s wholly inadequate response to this in the ATWP Progress Report is to announce that it will “…introduce a new emissions cost assessment to inform its decisions on major increases in aviation capacity.  This assessment would consider whether the aviation sector is meeting its external climate change costs.”   This seems to be a case of the DfT trying to re-invent the ‘Stern’ wheel and thereby delay any meaningful action.

In the meantime the aviation industry continues to enjoy the benefit of a total exemption from fuel duty and VAT.  If airlines had to pay the same fuel duty and VAT as the motorist, the revenues raised would amount to £9bn a year.  The ATWP Progress Review conveniently ignores this.

The ATWP Progress Review also conveniently ignores the spiralling UK trade deficit resulting from the boom in cheap flights.  Air travel cost the UK economy a record £19bn balance of payments deficit in 2005 compared with a deficit of only £2bn ten years ago.

SSE Campaign Director, Carol Barbone said: “This is is not a progress report at all but the very opposite.  It shows that the Government remains wedded to the past and unable to grasp the very real need that the key priority is to address climate change, not to build new runways.”

“When on earth will the Government realise that the economy is part of the environment and not the other way around?”

 NOTES 

Official reference sources for all of the figures quoted in this release are available on request from the SSE Office.

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport