Govt ‘committed’ to airport expansion

The government has today reaffirmed its commitment to airport expansion, despite warnings that the move undermined the UK’s efforts to tackle climate change.

Transport secretary Douglas Alexander this morning published a progress report on the 2003 aviation white paper, which proposed the building of four new runways to meet increasing passenger numbers.

The report confirms the government’s support for the aviation sector, in particular the third runway at Heathrow airport, noting about 200,000 UK jobs depend on the industry.

Mr Alexander insisted he was still committed to reducing the environmental impact of aviation and announced a consultation on a new ’emissions cost assessment’ which would consider whether the industry was meeting the costs of its own pollution.

This would inform all major government decisions on airport expansion in the future, he argued. He also promised to introduce in the near future plans to help airline passengers offset the carbon emitted by their flights, as the government has pledged to do.

“The government reaffirms its commitment to the development of the aviation sector, predominantly through making the best use of existing capacity, and ensuring that where new capacity is required its provision is in line with our environmental obligations,” Mr Alexander said.

However, shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling described ministers’ aviation policy as “completely inconsistent” with their messages on climate change, saying: “They still seem to be failing to reflect the very real environmental challenges in their aviation strategy.”

Friends of the Earth aviation campaigner Richard Dyer added: “UK aviation policy is on a climate change collision course.The government must listen to the alarm bells, abandon its airport expansion plans and take urgent action to cut carbon dioxide emissions.”

On Monday, a group of environmentalists, experts and politicians, including the Tory and Liberal Democrat environment spokesmen, urged the government to scrap its airport expansion plans.

They cited studies by the Centre for Climate Change Research and the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford university showing how current and forecast levels of aviation growth would “make it impossible for the UK to meet its climate obligations”.

The government today reasserted its commitment to include aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), but in a letter to The Times, the group warned this would not happen until at least 2011 and even then its benefits were “uncertain”.

It argued: “The government’s policy of building four new runways to accommodate massive growth is short-sighted and cannot be reconciled with tackling climate change and environmental protection.

“If Douglas Alexander is serious about transport playing its full part in tackling climate change he must announce a fundamental rethink of aviation policy to bring it into line with current climate change targets.”