Aviation expansion will be fatal for UK’s climate commitments
12 July 2012
London Communications Manager
Aviation expansion could threaten UK wildlife and lead to rocketing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the message from the RSPB after the Government launched its consultation on the environmental impacts of aviation today [Thursday 12 July, 2012].
Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, with this country already one of the world’s biggest producers of carbon per head through air travel.
By 2050 aviation could account for one quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Yet there are no targets to reduce this, and these emissions are still not counted in UK’s carbon budget system. What’s more, the consultation confirms that new and expanding airports are on the horizon, which would see emissions rise to alarming and unacceptable levels, and may threaten valuable wildlife habitats such as the Thames Estuary.
Chris Corrigan, RSPB South East Regional Director, said: “Today’s announcement confirms Government’s continued pursuit of economic growth regardless of the cost to people, wildlife and our environment. Ultimately, this will only stoke the flames of opposition and cause needless damage to our fragile environment. The RSPB is calling for a new approach that properly values the environment and ensures that unbridled growth in aviation does not undermine our climate.
“Climate change is the greatest long-term threat facing birds, wildlife and people. If we don’t act now to limit our emissions, we’re putting our special places and species at grave risk as well people’s homes and livelihoods.
“The government has also delayed consultation on the economic arguments for a hub airport until later this year, and in doing so has harmfully segregated the debate. We cannot consider the economic arguments for expansion and specific hub proposals without taking into account the environmental impacts such as noise, pollution and climate change.
“We need a bold new vision for the UK’s wider transport strategy. Instead of thinking about aviation expansion, the government should be investing much more in improving the UK’s surface transport network, in new technologies for efficient and electric vehicles, and in using existing airport capacity better.”
The RSPB is Europe’s largest conservation charity, working to save and support the UK’s urban and rural wild life and wild places. With more than a million registered supporters, we speak out for nature, champion development which brings economic growth alongside a healthy environment for people and wildlife, and aim to bring people closer to nature. www.rspb.org.uk/london.
Aviation and our climate Domestic and international aviation emissions amount to about six percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This represents 21 per cent of the UK transport sector’s GHG emissions and compares to 43 percent of transport emissions emitted by cars. Aviation’s emissions have grown substantially in past decades, doubling from 16.9 million tonnes of CO2 in 1990 to 34.7 million tonnes in 2009. This reflects the demand for aviation growing faster than fuel efficiency improvements (Source: Department for Transport, 2011).
Aviation emissions are increasing rapidly and in climate-warming terms are at least twice as damaging as other emissions, meaning their impact is substantially greater. This is because nitrogen oxides, water vapour, soot and contrails all lead to additional warming, especially when released at high altitude. To limit the impact of aviation on our climate, Government will need to halt air travel expansion until it can be demonstrated that we can keep emissions from flying to within those needed to reduce the UK’s emissions by 80% by 2050, as enshrined in law by the Climate Change Act (2008). Without this, the scale of the cuts required in the rest of the UK economy to offset a continuing rise in aviation emissions would be potentially crippling. Instead, demand for flights can be managed by encouraging the use of lower carbon modes of transport and removing the substantial subsidies that the industry currently enjoys such as tax-free fuel, and the absence of VAT.
- The RSPB believes that an airport in the Thames Estuary is unacceptable because:
Building an airport in the estuary would be an act of environmental vandalism.
It’s home to hundreds of thousands of birds and welcomes hundreds of thousands more on migration every year. Aviation industry experts estimate the likelihood of bird strike with aircraft is 12 times more likely within the estuary compared with any other UK airport.
The estuary is unique and so large that it could not be recreated anywhere else in Europe, so mitigation is not possible.
The argument for a massive increase in aviation capacity cannot fit with the UK Governments targets to reduce emissions.
More details of the RSPB’s campaign against an airport in the Thames Estuary can be found on our website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/noestuaryairport