Environmental Audit Committee

7 June 2004


Report publication

Aviation: Sustainability and the Government Response

The Future of Air Transport White Paper remains the most glaring example of the failure of Government to put sustainable development at the heart of policy making, and the Department for Transport has failed to respond adequately to criticisms and concerns previously raised.    This is the key message of the latest report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Aviation: Sustainability and the Government Response, published today.

Commenting on issues raised, the Chairman of the Committee, Peter Ainsworth MP, said:

"In responding to our previous report on this topic, the DfT memorandum, which is superficial and evasive, still manages to score an extraordinary own goal.    We showed that emissions from aviations will constitute, on the basis of DfT's forecasts and policies, nearly 70% of the UK target for carbon emissions in 2050 - a scenario which is clearly unacceptable.   In attempting to massage down our figures, the DfT has assumed that there will be no reduction in greenhouse gases, other than carbon dioxide, over the next 50 years.   This is both irresponsible and intellectually dishonest.

I am also appalled by recent reports that the DfT interfered with the publication of the ONS Environmental Accounts and the accompanying press release, in an attempt to force ONS officials to delete any reference to the staggering increase in emissions from transport, and in particular air transport, since 1990.  This reinforces the perception that the DfT is behaving like a maverick department, indifferent or even actively hostile to the need to tackle global warming - despite the emphasis which has recently been placed on this by, amongst others, the Prime Minister."

The Committee's report, its Seventh Report of Session 2003-04, HC 623, contains 11 conclusions and recommendations, some of which are reproduced below.   The report also includes the Government's formal response to the Committee's previous report on aviation which was published in March 2003.  

For further information on the report, journalists may phone Committee staff on 020-7219-1378.

Key conclusions and recommendations of the report

• The quality of the Government response is poor and not of the standard we would normally expect.  In rejecting so much of our report without adequate consideration or explanation and in such an overtly challenging manner, the Department for Transport is failing to address not only our concerns but the similar concerns expressed by many other organisations including the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

• A policy which estimates future demand and then aims to satisfy almost all of it is self-evidently based on a 'predict and provide' approach. The Department for Transport should respond fully to our original conclusion, and explain why it believes it is wrong to describe the White Paper in that way, particularly when the Government is actively promoting growth on the scale envisaged.

• The Department for Transport must publish a formal statement of what it understands by sustainable consumption in the context of air travel. As part of this statement, it should explain how the projected growth from 180 mppa to 476 mppa by 2030 can be reconciled with the commitment made by the UK Government in Johannesburg to encourage more sustainable approaches to consumption; and it should also set out what policies it is pursuing to discourage unnecessary air travel.

• We expressed our astonishment at the lack of essential research to underpin the incorporation of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System, and recommended that the Department for Transport should set out what needed to be done and by when to achieve this goal.  Our conclusion and recommendation was totally ignored, and the Department should now provide a full response.

• We reject the accusation contained in the Government response that our figures for the impact of aviation in relation to other UK emissions are misleading and inappropriate.  The underlying truth is not in dispute:  that the global warming impacts from aviation are forecast to increase massively just as we are striving to make huge cuts in emissions from all other sectors of the UK economy.

• Given the priority apparently being accorded to the need to tackle global warming, we find it bizarre that the Government response, in calculating aviation in relation to other UK emissions, assumes that there will be no reduction in greenhouse gases, other than carbon dioxide, over the next 50 years.  In setting the 60% carbon reduction target last year, the Government failed to clarify how it relates to greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide and what baseline should be used to measure achievement against. It must do so as a matter of urgency.

Notes for Editors

1. The report published today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is its Seventh Report of Session 2003-04, Aviation:  Sustainability and the Government Response, HC 623.     It includes, as an appendix, the Government response to the Committee's previous report on aviation which was published in March 2003.   Details of all the Committee's press releases and inquiries, together with its Reports and other publications, are available on the Committee's Internet home page.