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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Letter from Gillian Merron MP (minister for Aviation) and response on airport expansion

Copy of letter sent to David Drew MP following his letter to Douglas Alexander and the response back from Gillian Merron on airport expansion

Dear David,

Thank you for obtaining a response from Gillian Merron MP on my letters to the department of transport which sought clarification on the contradictions to the government’s position on airport expansion and the critically urgent requirement to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60%.

Ms Merron states of the Government’s policy on aviation that “We believe this strikes a balance between economic, environmental and social impacts of aviation.”

However, the governments own figures from the Environmental Audit Committee (ref HC-981-l) shown below conclude that Aviation is the fastest growing source of emissions. This is before the introduction of the proposed additional airport capacity.

Further to this Douglas Alexander when questioned by the same committee on the aviation industry’s approach to emissions control and carbon trading said,

In terms of where we are in those negotiations, the evidence from the public statements of Lufthansa, even in the last 48 hours, evidences that the argument is not yet won within the aviation community. It is also no secret that some of our international partners are less than convinced of the merits even of a European scheme, never mind a wider scheme given the global nature of air travel"

Even in the government’s draft climate change bill the only meaningful reference to the impact of aviation is in a footnote at the bottom of page 28 which explains that if aviation is to be incorporated into the EU carbon trading scheme, it will done so by amending the targets, rather than making any meaningful attempt to actually reduce emissions.

These facts contrast with the conclusions of the Stern report and the IPCC report, which argue that 90% cuts in CO2 emissions are necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.

It is therefore clear that Gillian Merron’s statement that the policy “strikes a balance with the environmental impact of aviation” is wishful thinking that cannot be supported by any of the government’s published evidence.

In my earlier email to the DoT, I asked for clarification as to how the government justified their statement of “adopting a target to improve fuel efficiency by 50 per cent per seat kilometer in new aircraft in 2020 compared to 2000,” and what progress has actually been made against this. Ms Merron referred me to a copy of the Sustainable Aviation Report (No. 6). This is an aviation industry prepared document and thus not subject to any external scrutiny. The document states aspirations for efficiency achievements for certain new engines types and airframes. It seems that the government and industry has colluded to use this data as a measure of efficiency improvements actually being achieved for the entire current airline fleet. This is a grossly misleading distortion of the facts. The only information within Sustainable Aviation report showing past data that gives a measure of progress to the government’s and aviation industry’s aspirations in the white papers is the aggregated fuel efficiency, shown below. This graph shows an efficiency improvement of only 2.5% since 2000. A change as small as this is as likely to be noise as it is evidence of any sustainable improvement.

Thus it can be seen that even by the industry’s own figures, the improvement in fuel efficiency is far below that used as the basis for the government’s aviation policy.

If the target efficiency improvements in the government’s white paper were to be believed, the graph above would be showing an 18% improvement over the time period shown.

It should come a little surprise that the aviation figures have shown so little improvement. Recent reports in the press of empty planes flying from Heathrow to preserve slots and the introduction of new business jet services all undermine the image of an industry that claims to be concerned with the environment.

Gillian Merron also has stated in her letter that “The government is committed to a comprehensive approach, using economic instruments as an integral part of that approach to ensure that growing industries are catered for within a reducing total.” I have been trying hard to find any detailed analysis that the government has carried out to ensure that economic instruments could accommodate aviation emissions in a way that will allow the required CO2 targets to be met and what cuts other industries would be able to make to accommodate aviation. I have so far been unsuccessful. Could Ms. Merron explain what cuts she believes other industries will make to allow aviation’s expansion in accordance with government policies and what dialogue has actually been held with other industries on this? Given the facts above which show the aviation industries poor performance and the lack a response to this question from Ms Merron in my previous correspondence, am I correct to assume that there has actually been no dialogue and analysis? Does Ms Merron disagree with the Transport Secretary's statement to Environmental Audit Committee on the weakness of the concept of carbon trading for aviation?

On Gillan Merron’s last point in her letter to me “The report (14 Dec 2006) reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the strategy set out in the (Aviation) White paper,” can I assume that despite the lack of any published analysis carried out on offsetting aviation emissions, the lack of any measurable improvements and the publication of the IPCC report since the progress review that the government will continue to ignore all the warnings and proceed regardless of the environmental risks? Could Ms. Merron also explain how I should present these contradictions to my children?

Yours sincerely

Kevin Lister


David Drew MP
House of Commons

Dear David

Thank you for your letter of 25 April to Douglas Alexander enclosing correspondence from Mr Kevin Lister about aviation and the environment. I have been asked to reply as Minister for Aviation.

As Mr Lister is aware, the Government's policy on aviation is set out in The Future of Air Transport White Paper. We believe this strikes a balance between the economic, environmental and social impacts of aviation.

The source of the 50% fuel saving per seat km for new aircraft entering service by 2020 compared to 2000 is work published by a European Commission funded organisation called ACARE, the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe. This has been widely used in the UK by an industry based group called the 'Sustainable Aviation Council'. Members include experts from airframe and engine manufacturers, aircraft operators, airport operators and the air traffic control community.

Late last year they produced a progress report, using the ACARE work, with pages 16-17 presenting some details of how the 50% target will be achieved. The airframe will contribute 20-25%, the engines 15-20% and improved air traffic management 5-10%. New aircraft entering service today already benefit from improved fuel efficiency over their predecessors. But the different stakeholders are working to make further progress which should contribute to further improvements even for later variants of today's new aircraft. The progress report is available at:

Air Passenger Duty (APD), as with all taxation matters, is for the Treasury. However, we believe that the estimate of savings due to the rise in APD was derived from the assumed impact on demand. We recognise that APD plays one part in a suite of measures to tackle aviation's environmental impact and as such will contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. However APD does achieve other things too: it better ensures that the sector meets the external costs it imposes on society, and it delivers resources for the Government's spending priorities including public transport and the environment.

Mr Lister is correct in that the Government believe the best way of tackling aviation's impact is through an emissions trading scheme. As explained earlier, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is a major policy measure that aims to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide at least cost to industry. Participants are allocated tradeable emissions "allowances" (similar to quotas) that they can trade to help them in meeting their emissions reductions targets. This allows the aviation sector to cover its environmental costs through a combination of delivering emissions reductions within the sector itself and by purchasing reductions that can be produced more cheaply by other sectors.

There are a variety of ways in which greenhouse gas emissions might be reduced across the economy. More information can be found about the sectors already included in the EU ETS on the Defra website at The Government is committed to a comprehensive approach, using economic instruments as an integral part of that approach to ensure that growing industries are catered for within a reducing total.

Finally, Mr Lister asked if the Government was reconsidering its aviation policy. A report on the progress on the White Paper was published on 14 December 2006, in which we set out our progress on implementing our policy commitments, including on environmental measures. This report reaffirmed the Government's commitment to the strategy set out in the White paper.


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