Lords pass air traffic emissions Bill

A Green Party Bill setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry has completed its passage through the House of Lords. However, the Government seems certain to block the Bill in the Commons.

The Air Traffic Emissions Reduction Bill was introduced by Green peer Lord Beaumont. It represents a direct challenge to the planned expansion in airport capacity set out in the recent aviation White Paper (ENDS Report 347, pp 42-43 ).

The Bill would require the Secretary of State for Transport to draw up an integrated air transport plan and report annually on its implementation. The plan would cover "total air traffic emissions" - defined as all greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides from civil aircraft using UK airspace, as well as on-ground activities and car and lorry trips to airports.

The Secretary of State would have to outline measures to reduce emissions from 2000 levels by 5% by 2010, 10% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. On current policies, greenhouse gas emissions from UK flights are expected to double by 2030. He would also have to set out measures to replace air transport with other modes and the desirable level of investment in airport facilities.

Introducing the Bill, Lord Beaumont argued that aviation "has led a charmed life" in avoiding measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He accused the Government of adopting an "old-fashioned predict and provide" approach to new airport capacity, and repeated environmental groups' claims that the UK aviation industry benefits from effective subsidies of over £9 billion per year.

The main speaker against the Bill was Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde - until recently the chairman of the Freedom to Fly Coalition, a lobby group comprising the airlines, tourist industry, trade unions and the Confederation of British Industry.

Baroness Dean attacked the Bill as "seriously flawed and unworkable". She proposed an amendment to remove numerical targets to reduce aviation emissions, and instead require the plan to "bring UK aviation emissions within the Government's plan to meet overall UK emissions targets."

Baroness Dean may have failed to appreciate the full import of her amendment. She asserted that aviation accounts for 0.5% of all UK carbon dioxide emissions. In fact this figure refers to domestic flights alone. Some 97% of UK aviation's climate change impact comes from international flights leaving UK airports, which currently fall outside both the Kyoto Protocol and domestic emission reduction targets.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has pointed out that aviation's rapid growth threatens to "wreck" the Government's wider aspirations on climate change (ENDS Report 350, p 41 ) - explicitly so if aviation were to be brought under existing targets, as suggested by the amendment. The amendment was later dropped.

Government spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said the Government "will have difficulty in supporting the Bill" because it does not take account of the economic significance of the aviation industry or the impact on consumers.

The Bill will now pass to the House of Commons. Lord Beaumont challenged MPs to take up the Bill and use it to pressure the Government into a "rational and consistent" policy on climate change.