Terminal 5 Inquiry: The implications of climate change for the future of air travel

Written statement by Mayer Hillman for the Terminal 5 Inquiry. Published by Government of London, April 1998.

Dr. Hillman is a graduate of University College London, and of the University of Edinburgh. He is Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute – Britain’s leading independent research organisation in the economic and social policy fields – where he was engaged from 1970 to 1991 as the Head of the Institute’s Environment and Quality of Life Research Programme. His studies have been concerned with transport, urban planning, health promotion, and energy conservation and environment policies. He has written extensively on these subjects.

His major publications relevant to this Written Statement are:

  • Energy and Personal Travel: obstacles to conservation (with Anne Whalley), Policy Studies Institute, 1983
  • Conservation’s Contribution to UK Self Sufficiency, Heinemann Educational Books, 1984
  • Environmental Perspectives and the Quality of Life, 1995-2010: United Kingdom, A report for the European Foundation for the Improvement of Working and Living Conditions, 1990
  • Wealth Beyond Measure: An atlas of new economics (with Paul Ekins and Robert Hutchison), Gaia Books Ltd., 1992.

In addition, he has written the following papers with a bearing on the subject of the Inquiry:

  • Reconciling Transport and Environmental Policy Objectives, Public Administration, Vol.70, Summer 1992.
  • The Incompatibility of Growth in the Transport Sector and Environmentally-Sustainable Futures, Cambridge Econometrics, Annual Conference on Transport, Communications and the 21st Century, Cambridge, July, 1992
  • A Commentary on the Eighteenth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on the Subject of Transport and the Environment, Political Quarterly, April 1995
  • Memorandum to House of Commons Transport Committee Second Report on UK Airport Capacity, Vol.II, Minutes of Evidence, 67-II, HMSO, May 1996
  • The end of the road: where now?, Parliamentary Review, Conference Edition 1996
  • Review of Department of the Environment’s Indicators of Sustainable Development for the UK, Policy Studies, Vol.17, No.3, 1996
  • The future of air travel and international tourism, World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol.3, No.1, 1997
  • Drastically curtailing our use of fossil fuels: a public health and environmental imperative, Keynote Paper at the First UK Conference of Carless Citizens, London, November 1997
  • Balancing Energy Demands with Earth Summit Targets, Annual Conference of Energy Action Scotland, Erskine, Scotland, 5 December 1997.

Summary

The balance of argument for and against building an additional terminal at Heathrow to accommodate the forecast of growth in demand for air travel should not be taken in isolation from its environmental implications. Evidence presented to the Inquiry on these implications has been almost exclusively focused on local impacts. Given the broad scientific consensus that climate change is underway and that human activities are a significant contributory cause, due consideration should be given to the destabilising effects on the planetary environment of greenhouse gas emissions released from aircraft, adding to global warming and ozone depletion.

With increasing evidence of climate change, concern is growing about the damaging effects of the use of fossil fuels owing to the planet’s limited carrying capacity of greenhouse gas emissions. In recognition of this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has calculated that a 50% to 70% reduction in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at levels posing no danger to the stability of the world’s climate is required. Even if emissions were held at their current level, concentrations would still rise by about 40% over the next hundred years.

However, worldwide energy demand is growing, apparently inexorably. Crucial interacting factors which have brought this about are rising material standards and growth in the world’s population. Air travel both in terms of the number of people flying and the distances they travel is increasing at a much faster rate than nearly all other major fossil fuel-consuming sectors of the economy. As a result, the quantity of aviation fuel used worldwide is growing considerably as a rising proportion of the world’s population fly and select more distant destinations.

Interest is now being shown in the contribution that exhaust emissions released by aircraft into the upper atmosphere. The two primary concerns are the thinning of the ozone layer and global warming – to which aircraft contribute disproportionately owing to the release of emissions in the sensitive regions of the troposphere and stratosphere. Only a reduction in demand can deliver the required cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from air transport. New research indicates that aircraft emissions may already be contributing more than half the global warming potential of emissions from road transport.

Five key arguments in favour of limiting interference with growth in this sector of fossil fuel consumption have been put forward. None provide adequate answers to the scale of the problem:

  • scientific uncertainty on the grounds that it may be too early to say that the earth is necessarily in the grip of global warming
  • reductions in fuel consumption and pollutants which can be achieved through operational economies and the medium of technology
  • a system of eco-oriented taxation introduced in order to adequately reflect environmental costs
  • the lack of realism in any one country acting unilaterally on this issue
  • and the fact that in the forseeable future there is no alternative to kerosene as a fuel for aircraft.

These arguments imply that the aviation industry should be excused from making any contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions other than in the context of delivering lower levels per passenger kilometre flown and that it should therefore be allowed to continue to follow its growth path into the future.

However, mankind’s duty to act prudently and conscientiously so that the planet is handed over to future generations in good order was spelled out by the last government and is supported by the present one, as witness many public policy papers since 1990 on the theme of the need to promote ways both of encouraging environmentally-friendly economic activity and of discouraging environmentally-damaging activities, including commitments made at the Rio Summit in 1992 and at the Kyoto Conference at the end of last year.

If severe climate change is to be avoided, the IPCC calculation of the reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide of 50% to 70% to stabilise the world climate must be considered in the context of international and intergenerational equity. Neither are there moral grounds for, nor political prospect of, obtaining international agreement on any other basis.

If we do not deliver our fair share of the reduction, there can only be two outcomes: either those who do not yet use their share – mainly people living in developing countries – must be prevented from doing so or, together with future generations, we must witness and bear the costs of escalating damage from climate change – as well as the burden on our consciences. The Global Commons Institute (GCI) has shown that the only realistic solution must be based on a strategy of ‘convergence and contraction’ in which each person has an equal right to emit whatever limited amount of emissions the planet can support without destabilising the climate.

For this reason, the expansion of air travel and that sector of tourism dependent on it must be considered in the context of its ecological consequences. It is unrealistic to exclude the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, particularly with it growing so fast. Given the ceiling below which human activities which lead to greenhouse gas emissions can be maintained whilst at the same time protecting the world’s climate, there would appear to be strong grounds for contemplating the possibility of the need to manage contraction rather than expansion of air travel – and therefore removal of the need for an additional terminal at Heathrow. If approval were given for building Terminal 5, its future function could well become redundant within a short period of time as it is almost certain that measures will have to be taken to dramatically curtail rather than cater for growth in air travel during the next few decades.

What needs to be faced is the very real dilemma that, in view of the planet’s limited capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions from human activity without destabilising the climate, there is, at the least, a distinct possibility, and more likely a probability, that the objectives of economic growth and global environmental protection cannot be reconciled.

A House of Commons Select Committee has recently proposed that government should produce a new policy statement on aviation and airport capacity without undue delay so as to inform public debate, pointing out that policy on meeting the demand for air travel may have to be revised, and the Kyoto Protocol last December stated that signatory countries have to pursue limitations or reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases from international aviation.

It is clear that, in light of the scale of reduction needed, no substantial sector of the economy can be excused from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, and especially those fossil fuel-consuming ones contributing most damage. The conflict between policies and practices on promoting air travel, including increasing the capacity of airports to accommodate more passengers, and on limiting greenhouse gas emissions cannot go on being indefinitely side-stepped. The proposal to build an additional terminal at Heathrow appears to fly in the face of ecological reason. The evidence presented in this Written Statement challenges the case for giving planning approval for its construction.

Introduction

1. The balance of argument for and against building an additional terminal at Heathrow to accommodate the forecast of growth in demand for air travel should not be taken in isolation from its environmental implications. Evidence presented to the Inquiry on these implications has been almost exclusively focused on local impacts – prospects of increased traffic congestion in the transport corridors to the airport, air pollution, disturbance from night flying, loss of wild-life habitats and so on. The broad scientific consensus is that climate change is underway and that human activities are a significant contributory cause. Due consideration should be given therefore to the destabilising effects on the planetary environment of air travel in the form of greenhouse gas emissions released at high altitude in the upper atmosphere, and thereby adding to global warming and ozone depletion.

Climate effects of fossil fuel use

2. Evidence is accumulating of the damaging effects of the growing use of fossil fuels owing to the planet’s limited carrying capacity of greenhouse gas emissions. The rate of temperature change is now greater than at any time during the last 10,000 years: the 1990s have been the hottest decade of the last 600 years, with 1997 as the hottest year on record. It has been calculated that, of the extra 320 billion tonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere during the last century and a half, about 60% has been absorbed by warming the oceans and by forest ‘fixing’, leaving 40% in the atmosphere which are raising air temperatures. Scientists at the Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research have forecast an increase of 2.0 degrees Centigrade in world temperatures by 2050, and a northern shift of natural habitats of 50 to 80 kms per decade unless urgent action is taken.

3. Temperature rises are thought to account for the higher incidence of extreme climatological events – floods, droughts, shrinking glaciers, storms and hurricanes. The sea level rises in the last 100 years of 25cms are explained by the expansion of the warmer oceans. Further average rises of 15 to 95cms are predicted. Recent analysis by climatologists at University College London’s Department of Geological Sciences indicates that these could trigger eruption of new or dormant volcanoes. Owing to the increased force and incidence of severe storms, the rises are putting at risk land below the five-metre sea-level contour, with small island states likely to be inundated. Compared with the previous decade, melting of sea ice in the Arctic has doubled in the past decade. Rises of 3.0 degrees Centigrade above the average for the last 30 years have been recorded in parts of Siberia where methane and other organic gases are now known to lie at much shallower depths than was previously thought and the release of which could accelerate the process of global warming as permafrost thaws over the coming decades. The ice shelf in the Antarctic, a Continent which traps 90% of the world’s fresh water, is retreating at an unprecedented rate, with a temperature rise recorded of 2.5 degrees Centigrade in the last 50 years. In the last three years, two areas, one reported to be the size of the county of Berkshire, and the other the county of Yorkshire, have detached themselves from this shelf. Earlier springs have been revealed from examination of data covering the last 15 years, and warmer waters and marine species are appearing off UK coastal waters earlier in the year. To add to this catalogue of ecological concerns, the ozone layer is thinning over both poles: over the Arctic, the level has fallen 10% in the last ten years and two giant holes have appeared over much of Russia; over the Antarctic, a 60% decrease has been measured.

4. It was in recognition of the possibility of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases causing a dynamic chain reaction leading to irreversible ecological damage that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up ten years ago. A report of one of its Working Groups states that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at levels posing no danger to the stability of the world’s climate require a 50% to 70% reduction. Another of its Working Groups recently calculated that the capacity of the oceans to act as carbon sinks is lower than had been previously thought, and that, even if emissions were held at their current level, concentrations would still rise by about 40% over the next hundred years.

Trends in the use of fossil fuels

5. However, worldwide energy demand is growing, apparently inexorably: the annual BP Statistical Reviews of World Energy show that, in the last 20 years, consumption of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – has risen in tonnes equivalent by well over a third. Crucial interacting factors which have brought this about are rising material standards and growth in the world’s population. As for the future, the UN Population Fund forecasts an increase from the current 5.7 to 8.3 billion persons by 2025, 90% of it in poorer countries.

6. At the same time, economies in the developed world and in many parts of the developing world whose populations clearly have a greater claim on increasing their use of fossil fuels (the World Energy Council has pointed out that two billion people in them have neither electricity nor other communal sources of energy) continue to grow apace. In the Asia Pacific region, consumption has increased by over 50% in the last ten years alone. Both growth of the economy and of population are set to have an even greater impact on this consumption in the future unless progressively difficult policy decisions are made.

7. International professional, business and sports events are becoming more frequent, drawing on participants and spectators from further and further afield. Holidays are advertised in newspapers offering the chance to experience for a week or two the culture and climate of ever more exotic locations, almost invariably by flying and at very low prices. Indeed, tourism is now the third largest industry in the world. Air travel both in terms of the number of people flying and the distances they travel is increasing at a much faster rate than nearly all other major fossil fuel-consuming sectors of the economy. As a result, the quantity of aviation fuel used worldwide is growing considerably, accounting for about one-sixth of fuel used for transport purposes.

8. World airlines now make 55,000 commercial flights each day and carry over 1.25 billion passengers each year, with a predicted increase of at least 5% per annum up to the year 2010 and beyond. In the last ten years, passenger kilometres flown by UK airlines have risen by over 8% per annum. Increasingly destinations visited are outside Europe, with the most popular long haul destinations now including the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Far East, and Australasia. A half a million residents in this country now fly to North America each year – an apparently remarkable figure – but representing less than 1% of the UK population. In recent years, around 25 million tourists have been coming to Britain annually, the great majority by air.

Links with global pollution

9. Whilst attention is now paid to the environmental effects of airport location and aircraft movements, the almost total focus tends to be on the local impacts. However, interest is now being shown in the contribution that exhaust emissions make to the stability of the troposphere and stratosphere. Pollution from subsonic aircraft is now regarded as more significant than had been previously thought, owing to a better understanding of what happens when the emissions are released at cruising altitudes. Recent major studies, notably those undertaken by NASA in the US, have shown that as the emissions are released into part of the atmosphere which is extremely sensitive to chemical change, especially as molecules of carbon survive longer at colder temperatures, their effect is far greater than if they were released closer to the earth’s surface.

10. The two primary concerns are the thinning of the ozone layer which protects the earth from harmful ultra-violet radiation; and global warming from the release of carbon dioxide, with water vapour promoting the formation of clouds and carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons adding to the problem. The Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1994 predicted an annual rate of increase of 2% to 3% of emissions from aircraft by the year 2010, with a trebling of the emissions by 2040. However, owing to their disproportionate effect at high altitude, it has been calculated that a far higher proportion of the increase will stem from aircraft, a figure justifying great concern. As carbon dioxide emissions have a longevity of 50 to 200 years, the Royal Commission concluded that only a reduction in demand can deliver the required cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from air transport – implying that lower fuel consumption per passenger kilometre will not be able to do so.

11. Oxides of nitrogen emitted at typical cruising altitudes are highly effective as a greenhouse gas and are nine times more efficient in producing ozone. (As this gas decreases ozone in the stratosphere, there must be considerable doubt about the prospects for a new generation of supersonic aircraft under consideration by Japanese and American manufacturers as these aircraft have to fly at the higher altitudes). Some scientists have recently established that nitrogen oxide emissions from aircraft have a similar global warming effect to that from their release of carbon dioxide.

12. A new study by IPCC shortly to be published suggests that whilst the combined contribution of aircraft emissions to climate change has been thought to be of the order of 5% to 6% of the warming caused by man-made activities, the true figure could be 10% or more, that is more than half the global warming potential of emissions from road transport. Should the findings of this research be confirmed, this calculation is all the more worrying given the predicted doubling of aircraft emissions within the next ten years.

Grounds for allaying fears

13. In light of the evidence set out above, it is not surprising that there has been much debate about the prospects for air travel in the future, particularly from the viewpoint of the industries dependent on its growth and taking account of their contribution to economic growth and employment. Five key arguments have been put forward in favour of limiting interference with growth in this sector of fossil fuel consumption.

Scientific uncertainty

14. It has been suggested that precise figures cannot yet be determined on the chemical and physical characteristics of the atmosphere owing to both positive and negative feedbacks which affect global warming. It is pointed out that, for instance, the occasional volcanic eruption is responsible for more damage to the ozone layer than can be identified as attributable to human activity and that the extent of solar activity is a contributory factor to the climatic changes. Thus, it is maintained that it may be too early to say that the earth is necessarily in the grip of global warming triggered by human activity: in other words, most climate scientists may have made incorrect calculations. However, there is a broad consensus on the wisdom of adopting a ‘no regrets’ policy. Such a policy was supported by signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at Rio in 1992 who agreed that ‘lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to deal with climate change’. The governments of countries with substantial populations living in river delta regions, such as China, Bangladesh and Egypt, and the representatives of the alliance of the 35 small low-lying countries, have argued that they cannot afford the luxury of waiting for conclusive proof.

The roles of operational economies and technology

15. The second line of defence has been to cite the contribution that technology is making and will in future make to reducing fuel consumption and pollutants by improving efficiency in various relevant design and operational aspects of air travel – increased seat occupancy rates, new combustion techniques, weight reduction, cleaner engines and better aerodynamic performance, and newer wide-bodied aircraft carrying more passengers. In this context, it is paradoxical that the damage from the release of emissions from aircraft can be reduced by flying at lower altitudes which then leads to higher fuel consumption and lower speeds.

16. In the last 30 to 40 years, fuel consumption – and therefore greenhouse gas emissions – per passenger kilometre by air has halved and it is now claimed that it can be lowered still further in the future: for instance, the new generation of Boeing jet aircraft requires 10% less fuel than the current generation of this manufacture’s aircraft. However, it is clear that these measures achieve a reduction in the unit cost of travel so that when combined with more competition, the rate of growth in air travel expands well beyond the savings brought about by these means. Indeed, the UK government is pressing the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to aim for a target of a 16% cut in emissions of nitrogen oxide in the next few years but as air traffic is predicted to rise at a far higher rate than this cut could achieve, the net outcome will be an overall increase in these emissions. In any case, in its response to the House of Commons Select Committee Enquiry on UK Airport Capacity in 1996, the government has stated that aircraft are already highly fuel efficient and that ‘further substantial gains are unlikely’.

17. The prospect has been raised of a solution being found through the development of cleaner emissions from aircraft with hydrogen as a fuel since this would not only minimise the release of carbon dioxide. But the process of conversion produces more carbon dioxide than if aviation fuel were used directly. Moreover, the use of hydrogen as a fuel produces nitrogen oxides and water vapour both of which contribute to global warming – apart from considerable safety problems it and the size of the tank for its storage which would have to be about four times as large as that for conventional fuels. For this reason, it is now accepted that kerosene is the only viable fuel for aircraft for at least the next 50 years. Further technical fixes, such as adding zinc or iron to the oceans to increase their take-up of carbon dioxide and pumping compressed carbon dioxide into sandstone rocks below sea level, have been proposed though all have been met with incredulity by most scientists not least because of the scale required to have a significant positive effect on the problem it would be intended to solve.

External costs

18. It has been argued that a partial solution to the problems caused by the growth in air travel can be found in policy based on eco-oriented taxation. For instance, it has been proposed that a ‘level playing field’ would be created if aviation fuel were removed from tax exemption. However, modelling the effect of the higher fares that would come in the wake of such a tax suggests that, if the intention were to lower demand significantly by this means, it would have to be very high and therefore could not be contemplated by governments.

19. A complementary approach put forward has been to oblige aircraft operators to pay the full ‘external’ costs of air travel as this would lead to higher fares and thereby to reduced demand. However, this would present a daunting task to transport economists who would have to determine notional values for the costs of damage from greenhouse gas emissions and thinning of the ozone layer (although this has been attempted). In calculating the values, account too would have to be taken of the effects of these types of environmental damage on future generations, especially if they were to reflect the fact that, as noted later, emissions accumulate over time and some have long lives in the upper atmosphere.

Action at national and international level

20. The next positional gambit has been to point out how unrealistic it would be for any one country to act unilaterally on this issue as the decisions of any one country would make little difference to solving the problem. On these grounds, collaboration at the international level is seen to be essential, with the success of action on limiting the damage to the ozone layer from the use of CFCs highlighted as indicative of this assured, effective, and apparently successful strategy. However, even the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol on removing ozone depleting gases must be called into question given recent evidence that more of the depletion of the ozone layer is attributable to other sources than it is to CFCs. As noted earlier, nitrous oxide emissions from aircraft flying in the stratosphere have been cited as one of these.

21. Even discounting the fact that emissions from aircraft are omitted from national and international calculations, the inadequacy of the current approach to resolving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions is apparent from the difficulties in even setting what was clearly a wholly inadequate target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at their 1990 levels by the year 2000 – a 0% change – as a response to the IPCC call, referred to earlier, for a 50% to 70% reduction in emissions. The fact that many EU countries are almost certain to fail to meet even this modest target suggests that policy in this domain will require more effective international collaboration than was demonstrated in setting targets at Kyoto for the years up to 2010, let alone beyond that date. Moreover, it needs to be borne in mind that equivalent percentage reductions in emissions will become progressively difficult to achieve as, of course, the more cost-effective measures are the ones taken first.

Fuel dependency and the partisan claim of the aviation industry

22. As a consequence of the phenomenal take-up of air travel, the economies of many countries around the world have become increasingly dependent on it. With tourism as the third largest industry in the world, with an annual turnover of over $3000bn, governments understandably have become anxious if there is any downturn in demand for any reason or if there is any debate about its downside, such as the damage to landscapes, the destabilising of local cultures, the pollution of air and water, let alone questioning or even considering whether the benefits justify the wider ecological impacts. As natural allies in this venture, the industries of aviation and of tourism dependent on air travel present a confident stance in spite of the steadily accumulating evidence of climate change to which their practices are contributing.

23. They repeatedly make the point that, in contrast to many other fossil fuel-dependent human activities, no alternative to kerosene exists as a fuel for aircraft, nor is there any prospect of one being found soon enough to allow for conversion to its use. They claim therefore that it is more cost-effective to devote attention to achieving reductions in the other sectors of the fossil fuel-using economy than to burden the aviation industry with an unrealistic requirement to deliver its fair share. They argue that tourism, which is a substantial and largely irreplaceable source of foreign earnings for many countries, is heavily dependent on air travel, catering as it does for over 70% of tourist arrivals in at least 20 of the major tourist-receiving countries. It is for this reason that, in the UK, there has been fierce criticism of the government for not reaching early decisions on how its airport capacity can be increased to accommodate the growth in demand for air travel. The concern is that unless the capacity of Heathrow terminals, for instance to accommodate 30% of passengers who transfer there to other flights, can be increased, the airport will loose its status as the leading hub for international airlines in Europe, and many travellers will choose to fly to Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam instead.

Discussion of issues raised

24. Even in the face of the possibility of catastrophic environmental damage owing to the fact that the population of the planet cannot conceivably support the developed world’s level of energy-intensive lifestyles, these arguments imply that the aviation industry should be allowed to continue to follow its growth path into the future. It is as if, come what may, the industry should be largely left free from making any contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions other than in the context of delivering lower levels per passenger kilometre flown. However, consideration of this issue needs to be seen in the context of the very reasonable intention of the governments of developing countries of advancing the material prosperity of their people which, for instance in the case of China, is almost wholly dependent on reserves of highly polluting coal, use of which has increased by 50% in the last ten years alone. Yet it is apparent that, unless the developed world makes major policy changes in this area to demonstrate conclusively its determination to modify its patterns of activity, it does not have the political base from which to argue for agreement at the international level on the substantial cuts implicit in the IPCC calculations.

25. This most critical issue, and the conflict inherent in aiming to promote economic growth whilst at the same time minimising climate change and damage to the ozone layer, is increasingly recognised. The UK government policy White Paper in 1990, entitled This Common Inheritance, referred to ‘the ethical imperative of stewardship’ and ‘… mankind’s duty to act prudently and conscientiously so that the planet is handed over to future generations in good order’. It also referred to the full integration of environmental considerations into economic policy decisions to achieve sustainable development which it warned was not open to compromise.

26. Further evidence of the fact that this issue has been taken very seriously indeed was apparent at the Rio summit in 1992 where 125 Heads of Government met and the industrialised nations committed themselves to stabilising emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. At that conference, the UK Prime Minister at the time made the statement that future developments must be sustainable and that we must ensure that ‘the price of growth did not become an intolerable bill for future generations’. His government’s response to the Rio conference placed great emphasis on the need for all sectors of society to participate in the formation of effective national strategies to this end. In its Strategy on Sustainable Development in 1995, the challenge facing society of the need to ‘promote ways both of encouraging environmentally-friendly economic activity and of discouraging environmentally-damaging activities’ was highlighted.

27. The Kyoto Conference at the end of last year attended by an even larger number of representatives from around the world than at Rio, reached an international agreement on reducing these emissions by 2010, with the clear implication of further commitments to progressively lower them beyond that date. The UK government has demonstrated its intention of moving down the path of sustainable development by setting its own target of a 20% reduction, though the European Union’s previous target of 15% was reduced to 8% in the Kyoto Protocol.

28. However, it is of considerable concern that even if global emissions were held at their current levels, atmospheric concentrations would still increase at a nearly constant rate for two centuries; that, in the first half of this decade, emissions by two of the major industrialised nations – the US and Japan – have risen by 6% and 8% respectively; and that, at current global levels of energy demand, emissions have been predicted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to increase by 30% to 42% by 2010. Of equivalent concern in the context of policy decisions affecting air travel in the future, and therefore of relevance to this Inquiry, is the fact that the Kyoto Protocol excludes greenhouse gas emissions from air travel even though it is recognised that this aspect of policy can only be determined in an international forum such as the one at Kyoto owing to the difficulties, noted earlier, of incorporating these in national inventories.

29. If severe climate change is to be avoided, the IPCC calculation of the reduction in the emissions of carbon dioxide of 50% to 70% to stabilise the world climate must be considered in the context of international and intergenerational equity. Neither are there moral grounds for, nor political prospect of, obtaining international agreement on any other basis.

30. At present, primary energy use per capita (in tonnes of oil equivalent) in the US are double those in the UK, are over ten times those in China, and over 30 times those in India. In this context, the consequences of the populations of the developing world adopting western lifestyles in the next century, with the attendant burning of fossil fuels, would appear to be dire. These populations cannot be expected to reduce the impact of their lifestyles by making the same reduction that we do in the affluent West.

31. If we do not deliver our fair share of the reduction, there can only be two outcomes: either those who do not yet use their share – mainly people living in developing countries – must be prevented from doing so or, together with future generations, we must witness and bear the costs of escalating damage from climate change – as well as the burden on our consciences. It is only because most of the world’s population has much lower per capita emissions than those of the developed world that much more severe ecological damage than is apparent to date is not now being experienced. Mark Tully, the former BBC correspondent has noted: “… If each Indian were to start consuming the amount of commercial energy that each Britain does, … imagine what that would do to the greenhouse effect, not to mention its effects on oil and other energy sources”. As the Global Commons Institute (GCI) has argued, the only realistic solution must be based on a strategy of ‘convergence and contraction’ in which each person has an equal right to emit whatever limited amount of emissions that the planet can support without destabilising its climate.

32. For this reason, the expansion of air travel and that sector of tourism dependent on it must be considered in the context of its ecological consequences. It is unrealistic to exclude the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, particularly as it is growing so fast. In light of the present government’s policy on road traffic reduction, it can be shown that emissions from air travel attributable to the UK population’s air travel, based on forecasts cited earlier in this Written Statement, could exceed those from road-based transport by 2025. Given the ceiling below which human activities which lead to greenhouse gas emissions can be maintained whilst at the same time protecting the world’s climate, there would appear to be strong grounds for contemplating the possibility of the need to manage contraction rather than expansion of air travel – and therefore removal of the need for an additional terminal at Heathrow. If approval were given for building Terminal 5, its future function could well become redundant within a short period of time as it is almost certain that measures will have to be taken to dramatically curtail rather than cater for growth in air travel during the next few decades.

33. The gravity of the situation is reflected in the following Tables. On a per capita basis, the UK must cut its emissions by about 90%, that is over a 5% reduction each year from now to 2040 – a very tall order. Currently, total annual UK emissions of carbon dioxide from man-made activities are over 560 million tonnes, shared out between the various sectors shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1. UK carbon dioxide emissions in million tonnes, by sector.

Transport

139

25%

Domestic

157

28%

Industry

164

29%

Other

107

18%

All

567

100%

Source: Department of the Environment (1994). (These figures exclude emissions from air travel.)

34. Table 2 below shows these figures set out in relation to current per capita emissions of carbon dioxide, together with the lowering of these emissions both pro rata within the range of the recommended IPCC global reductions and on the equity one based on its central figure. It can be seen that the average person in the UK accounts for annual emissions of just under 10 tonnes.

Table 2. UK average annual per capita carbon dioxide emissions in tonnes, and reductions needed to stabilise the world climate.

IPCC recommendation

central

high

equity-based

Current

50% reduction

70% reduction

90% reduction

Transport

2.42

Domestic

2.71

Industry

2.83

Other

1.84

All

9.78

4.89

2.93

0.98

(These figures exclude emissions from air travel.)

35. To illustrate the significance of these figures for the future of air travel, reference can be made to the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted on a round trip by air from London to Los Angeles, based on the aviation fuel used and typical aircraft seat occupancy on such flights. Carbon dioxide emissions for one person’s round trip accounts for 1.5 tonnes, that is, just one-third of the total average annual tonnage that can be allowed for each person for all fossil fuel-consuming purposes (including heating, lighting, power and transport as well as a proper share of industry’s use), with the central IPCC recommendation, and one-and-a-half times the annual tonnage that could be allowed on an equity base, if the world climate is to be stabilised.

36. Given the obviously higher claims on fossil fuel consumption for the winter heating of buildings, the generation of electricity, the power needed for industry, and the fuel for land-based motorised transport, it would appear to run counter to common sense to excuse air transport, particularly for travel ‘to see the world’, from contributing at least its fair share of the necessary reductions shown in Table 2. Indeed, in the hierarchy of basic fuel-dependent human activities for the world’s population now and in the future, and the development of sophisticated forms of telecommunications, such as teleconferencing, and the exponential falls in their costs, little air travel can realistically be classified as ‘essential’.

37. The 1994 Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution indicated that ways must be found, and compromises reached, to reconcile the conflicting objectives of economic growth and environmental protection. What needs to be faced is the very real dilemma that, in view of the planet’s limited capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions from human activity without destabilising the climate, there is, at the least, a distinct possibility, and more likely a probability, that these objectives cannot be reconciled. The longer that action is put off in the face of this simple but crucial deduction, the more are social and environmental problems intensified for the future, and the more are difficulties created for the next generation in finding workable solutions.

38. In the latest British Airways annual report, its Chairman, Sir Colin Marshall, notes that ‘Growth and development [of BA’s activities] go hand in hand with a deep sense of responsibility for the environment …’. In light of the foregoing evidence on the ecological damage caused by aircraft, his statement could be seen to be disingenuous. However, it is comforting to note that not all voices within the aviation industry are complacent. Five years ago, the Director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation made the following remarkable statement:

‘For many years, we have been accustomed to growth in the aviation industry. Now we are faced with the prospect that environmental problems could restrain growth. It is conceivable that they might even lead to a reduction of air transport activity…. The aviation industry has an obligation to the world’s population, and to future generations, to act responsibly on environmental issues, particularly the global ones. How to do this while protecting aviation’s own legitimate interests is one of the most serious challenges facing civil aviation today’.

It mirrors the arguments set out in this evidence on the dangers of arriving at decisions on the terminal capacity of Heathrow Airport which pay insufficient regard to the interface between the objectives of air transport and environmental policy.

39. This critical issue could have been the focus of the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on UK Airport Capacity in its 1995-96 Session. When first raised with the Committee Chairman, it was ruled to be outside the Inquiry’s terms of reference. However, these were subsequently widened to allow evidence to be taken on it. The Memorandum written by the author of this Written Statement following this decision included the following three recommendations:

  • that a methodology should be established to enable emissions from air transport (which, at best, only cover those in take-off and landing) to be included in national inventories so that these can be assigned to individual countries – remarkably, as demonstrated in the Kyoto agreement, these are excluded at present owing to the difficulty of apportioning responsibility for them – and so that air transport can be called upon to make its contribution to the overall strategy on limiting greenhouse gas emissions
  • that Government should be working towards setting more realistic targets on greenhouse emissions, including targets for the aviation industry
  • that this industry should be involved in preparing policies and programmes to deliver its share of the reduction of these emissions in order to achieve the global objective of limiting damage from climate change.

40. The Report of the Committee, published in the early summer of 1996, does in fact refer to studies currently in progress on climate change and on the impact of aircraft emissions at high altitude. In its conclusions, it stated that Government should determine its policy from a national interest perspective and called on it to publish its response to these studies and its implications for a sustainable level of air transport. In light of this, it proposed that a new policy statement on aviation and airport capacity be produced ‘without undue delay (later spelled out as within two years) so as to inform public debate…. It may then need to revise its policy that demand [in air travel] should be met where it arises’ (this author’s italics) from the growth – a possible trebling of passengers in the next 20 years which is cited in justification of the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow. In this context, it is salutary to note that the Kyoto Protocol stated that signatory countries ‘shall pursue limitations or reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases from international aviation’.

Conclusions

41. Two long-standing and widely-shared beliefs are held in this domain of public policy: first, that economic growth has no limits and that the demand it generates from the six billion people on the planet is sustainable in a resource sense; and second, that ecological problems that come in the wake of this growth can without doubt be resolved satisfactorily. As yet, however, governments around the world have given no warning that the public may have to be called upon to make necessary changes which are likely to entail substantial rather than modest alterations to the lifestyles that they have only been able to adopt because the ecological implications have largely been ignored.

42. It is clear that, in light of the scale of reduction needed, no substantial sector of the economy should be excused from delivering its share of greenhouse gas emission reductions, especially those fossil fuel-consuming ones contributing most damage. It hardly needs to be said that, if the reduction is not delivered by some sectors – especially in the more affluent countries of the world – then other sectors and populations would have to make even larger reductions to avert the catastrophic climatological changes that the world is beginning to witness.

43. The conflict between policies and practices on promoting air travel, including increasing the capacity of airports to accommodate more passengers, and on limiting greenhouse gas emissions cannot go on being indefinitely side-stepped. The proposal to build an additional terminal at Heathrow appears to fly in the face of ecological reason. The evidence presented in this Written Statement challenges the case for giving planning approval for its construction.

References

Archer, L.J. (1993), Aircraft Emissions and the Environment, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Barrett, M. (1993), ‘Aircraft Pollution Control’, Proceedings of the Transport and Climate Change Conference, Climate Action Network UK.

Bleijenberg, A.N. (1994), ‘A future for air transport?’, AEF/AET Conference, Aviation Growth and Environmental Sustainability, October, London..

Bleijenberg, A.N. and Wit, R.C.N. (1998), A European environmental aviation charge, Centre for Energy Conservation and Environmental Technology, Delft, March.

BP (1997), Statistical Review of World Energy 1997.

British Airways, Annual Environmental Report 1996.

CEC (1994), Progress Report in the Guidelines for the Trans-European Airport Network, SEC (1993) 2127, Commission Staff Working Paper.

Department of Environment (1990), This Common Inheritance, White Paper on the Environment, HMSO.

Department of Environment (1994), Report of Climate Change Conference, 14 July, London.

Department of Environment (1995), Sustainable Development – The UK Strategy, London, HMSO.

Department of Environment/Central Office of Information (1995), Climate Change: The UK Programme, December.

Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (1994), Climate Change Beyond 2000, December.

Department of Environment, Transport and Regions (1997), Air traffic forecasts for the UK.

Department of Transport (1996), Proof of Evidence of Daniel Instone, Topic 2: Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry.

Department of Transport (1997), Transport Statistics Great Britain 1997 Edition, HMSO.

Economist (1990), Vital World Statistics, Hutchinson.

Egli, R.G. (1990), ‘Nitrogen oxide emissions from air traffic’, Chimia, Vol.44.

European Commission (1994), The Way Forward for Civil Aviation in Europe.

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