Climate change report calls for passenger tax on flights to reduce CO2

8/12/2009 Gatwick would still operate with just one runway.Heavy taxes on passengers and a ban on expansion at regional airports will be needed to curb Britain’s insatiable appetite for air travel, a climate change report will say today .  But it will still be possible to build a third runway at Heathrow, add second runways at Stansted and Edinburgh and permit an extra 140 million journeys a year by 2050 without breaking the UK’s commitment to cutting carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change.

However, that 60% increase in air travel over the next four decades will come at a cost of choking off expansion at other airports including Gatwick, Birmingham, Newcastle and Bristol.
The committee – set up under the Climate Change Act 2008 to independently advise the government on how to meet its legally binding targets – warns that the British flying boom, stoked by the emergence of Ryanair and easyJet, is unsustainable. If the aviation industry continues to grow unchecked, passenger journeys would increase by 200% in the next 40 years, but that cannot be tolerated because carbon dioxide emitted by carriers in 2050 must not exceed 2005 levels.

“This is a very challenging target,” said David Kennedy, the committee’s chief executive. “Don’t be deceived by the fact that demand can grow. It will have to grow by much less than if we didn’t care about carbon dioxide.” Today’s report says ministers must consider measures including: a carbon tax on passengers; limits on runway expansion; and restrictions on flights at existing airports. Passenger growth will have to be limited to 60% over the next four decades, compared with an increase of 130% since 1990, allowing the UK a maximum of around 370 million air travellers by 2050, from 230 million currently.

“Demand can increase, but only in a limited way,” added Kennedy. The committee forecasts that unchecked airline growth would shatter emissions targets, increasing passenger numbers by 200% to 695 million per year. Asked if fares will also have to increase in order to choke off demand, Kennedy said: “The price has to cut back some of the growth, so you do have to have rising prices.”
However, the report delivers a blow to campaigners against Heathrow expansion by making the theoretical case for a third runway. According to government forecasts an expanded Heathrow could handle a further 68 million passengers a year by 2030 — more than double current demand of 67 million a year — and still fit easily within the committee’s growth projections. “You can see how you can do the maths and have a third runway at Heathrow and be within the 60% limit,” said Kennedy.

If projections published by the DfT this year are correct, Britain could reach the maximum permitted number of flights soon after 2030. According to DfT forecasts, adding new runways at Heathrow, Stansted and Edinburgh will be the equivalent of an extra 131.2 million journeys per year by 2030. Not only would that leave no room for new runways at Gatwick, Luton, Birmingham, Glasgow,
Newcastle and Bristol, but it would bar those airports from increasing passenger numbers beyond current levels.Even with an anticipated carbon price of £200 per tonne passed on to fares, the
creation of a high-speed rail network, and more use of video-conferencing to cut business travel, the committee warns that more action such as constraining airport use might be needed in order to stop the population from flying.

The report singles out a “carbon tax” as one of the solutions, which would be levied on top of the £200 per tonne carbon price.  “The policy instruments which could achieve this restraint include a carbon tax on top of the forecast carbon price, limits on further airport expansion, and restrictions on the allocation of takeoff and landing slots even where airports have the theoretical capacity available,” the report says.The report calculates that the aviation industry can limit 2050 carbon dioxide emissions to 2005 levels – or 37.5m tonnes of CO2 a year – because aircraft manufacturers and airlines will improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets by 0.8% a year. Including limited use of biofuels, that will slash carbon dioxide emissions per passenger by 35%.Under that scenario, which includes greater use of the A380 superjumbo and an increase in the amount of seats sold per flight, the number of flights in and out of the UK can increase from 2.2m a year to 3.4m.

Even then, aviation will account for a quarter of all UK emissions by 2050 because other industries will have made tougher emissions cuts. Environmental campaigners said the government should now scrap expansion plans laid out in the 2003 aviation white paper. “Ministers have been influenced by misleading greenwash from the aviation industry for far too long – this report is a reality check which should put the nail in the coffin for government plans to allow a huge expansion in air travel,” said Richard Dyer of Friends of the Earth.  The white paper had envisioned demand for flights growing to 465 million a year by 2030 – a number that is now inconceivable under the committee’s projections.  It said the government could rewrite its airport policy – and choose which
airports expand at the expense of others – in a national policy statement that is now required under the 2008 Planning Act. The act creates an infrastructure planning commission that will refer to policy statements when it considers planning applications for infrastructure projects such as airports.

The report also marks a potential transformation in the lifestyle of millions of Britons who have benefited from a regional airport boom which gave cheap access to the beaches and cities of Europe from an airport a few miles down the road.  If the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on capping growth in air travel is accepted by ministers, then the majority of the UK’s remaining airports could find themselves at a standstill while the likes of Heathrow take much of the allowed growth. Under that scenario, prices will rise inexorably as demand for a weekend break to Nice far outstrips supply.
One of easyJet’s most successful routes from Bristol International airport is to Alicante in Spain — 50,000 passengers last year at £100 per return ticket. A spokesman for the airline admitted that fares at regional airports could be forced up if the likes of Bristol International, which handled 6 million people a year and is aiming for 10 million by 2020, are barred from growing. “If you follow the recommendations of the committee that might be the result.”

It is likely that the report will widen the schism between budget carriers and regional airports on the one hand, and long-haul carriers such as British Airways and international hubs such as Heathrow on the other.  EasyJet argues that airports serving heavily polluting long-haul destinations should have the toughest curbs because their business plans are predicated on transfer flights, which involve passengers flying into the airport on a regional service. “Why shouldn’t the government manage that growth in an environmentally responsible manner? “Letting Heathrow grow means more transfer flights, which is more polluting because you have to take two flights instead of one,” said the easyJet spokesman. EasyJet’s comments will make for awkward reading among fellow members of the Sustainable Aviation group, who include two of Heathrow’s biggest carriers - British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.  Sustainable Aviation declined to be drawn into the approaching fight over which airports deserve to grow, saying that limiting emissions through technological improvements was the answer, not cutting people’s right to travel.

Four ways to curb air travel, according to the committee on climate change

1 A carbon tax on flights, which could be imposed after airlines join the European Union emissions trading scheme in 2012. The scheme alone is likely to force up fares because airlines will have to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions, but the committee says that is not enough.

2 Limiting runway growth to a select number of airports, possibly Heathrow, Stansted and Edinburgh.

3 Restrictions on take-off and landing slots at airports.

4 Setting out a new growth strategy for UK airports in a national policy statement.

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