Sustainable Development Commission bares its teeth

A biting report from the Sustainable Development Commission, issued in June, accuses the Government of "violating" the principles of sustainable development in its aviation White Paper.1 The critique echoes many of the concerns raised by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (see main article ).

Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the Commission, said: "By no stretch of the imagination, or abuse of the concept of 'sustainable transport', can [the DfT's forecasts of passenger growth] be described as 'sustainable'." He accused the DfT of "over-egging the economic benefits and understating the environmental burden."

The Commission calls on the Government to:

  • clarify the basis for its projections of aviation emissions, and carry out further research to resolve "substantial discrepancies";

  • affirm that its target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050 includes the radiative forcing from emissions from domestic and international aviation;

  • ensure that the aviation industry is taxed according to the environmental costs it imposes;

  • reconsider its refusal to levy an emissions charge on all European flights, pending the inclusion of aviation in an emissions trading scheme;

  • refrain from sanctioning any airport expansion until aviation is included in the EU trading scheme, so that it can be assessed whether expansion "is really necessary or feasible".

    The Commission warns that "the failure to reshape aviation policy to take proper account of the seriousness of the climate change threat may undermine the UK Government's leadership role on climate change."

    The Government's focus on incorporating aviation into an emissions trading framework is welcomed in principle - but with several important caveats. First, the Commission says, "it pushes well into the future any measures to tackle the climate change impacts of aviation."

    Second, the idea that a single sector "can expand its contribution to climate change by a factor of three (from 1990 to 2050) while other sectors are somehow going to reduce theirs by more than half plus an amount to offset the increase in aviation emissions, simply defies objective credibility."

    Finally, the Commission warns that a meaningful cap on aviation could push up the price of emission allowances to such an extent that it "will choke off the demand that is needed to fill the new facilities that are to be built."