Climate Change

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Airport Expansion and Climate Change

Is a new runway compatible with climate policy?

The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), a policy-focused UK NGO, is producing a series of policy briefings, to inform the airport expansion/runway debate. The issue remains whether to build a new runway, not merely where.

The Airports Commission has concluded that one new runway in the South East would be compatible with the UK’s climate commitments. But in reality new runways cannot be reconciled with legislated carbon goals unless a significant gap in the policy for reducing aviation emissions is addressed by the next government.

Key Issues:
• The Airports Commission acknowledges that without additional policy measures beyond carbon
trading, UK aviation emissions would overshoot the level that would be compatible with the Climate
Change Act, even without building new runways. Yet the Commission has made no comment about
what those extra measures could or should be.
• The Airports Commission argues that technology improvements and a shift to larger aircraft will
permit one new runway. But this conceals the fact that if a new runway took up all the ‘spare’ carbon
for aviation, activity at other airports, including in the regions, would need to be cut to below today’s
• The future government will need to identify new policy measures such as very high aviation taxes or
carbon charges, and capacity restrictions at other airports in order to keep aviation emissions to a
level consistent with the Climate Change Act if a new runway is built.

The Airports Commission’s analysis has built on the work of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in modelling the increase in demand for flights that can be accommodated while keeping aviation emissions at a level compatible with the Climate Change Act by 2050.

Both the CCC and Airports Commission have stated that demand for flights in the UK will have to be restricted to prevent carbon emissions from the aviation sector overshooting this level. However, neither has identified how this can be achieved if a new runway is built, leaving a policy gap that would, we argue, result in the UK’s climate targets being compromised.

If a new runway is built, the available policy options would be to either dramatically increase the cost of flying (by the UK acting alone) or to restrict capacity available at regional and other South East airports to below today’s levels.

Both options would be likely to be politically undeliverable.

AEF’s view, therefore, is that rather than constructing any new runways, making best use of existing airport capacity continues to be the best approach to managing future aviation demand.

Please read the briefing at:

And to read more about the Aviation Environment Federation, please see:

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