30 November 2002

Government is told: expansion of airports must be halted now

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Aircraft pollution will be such a big contributor to global warming that expansion of Britain's airport capacity should be halted for good, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said yesterday.

No new airports, terminals or runways should be built, members of the commission said, to cut the soaring demand for flights and the damaging emissions of greenhouse gases they bring with them. They recognised that such action action would push up fares.

Aircraft exhaust emissions are particularly harmful in terms of global warming, the report says, because they go directly into the atmosphere at a high level and contain oxides of nitrogen and fine particles as well as carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.

The report from Britain's most prestigious green advisory body, composed largely of senior academics, is an outright rejection of the Government's recent proposals to expand airport capacity hugely over the next 30 years to meet booming passenger demand.

This projected growth in air travel is not sustainable, the commission says. It warns that if it continues, emissions from aircraft will become one of the biggest single contributors to the
greenhouse effect, perhaps as much as 10 per cent of global warming in the decades to come. It adds: "The Government shows little sign of having recognised this, but regards further substantial growth in aviation as inevitable."

The report, The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight, makes recommendations on how the growth in demand for air travel can be curbed.

The most radical is the call for airport expansion to be stopped now, a stark contrast to the plans announced in July by Alistair Darling, the Secretary of the State for Transport, for capacity to be boosted. Mr Darling's proposals included a new airport at Cliffe on the north Kent marshes, three extra runways at Stansted, and a new runway at Heathrow.

The commission says none should be considered. In its written report, it refers in general terms to "not expanding airport capacity", but at the report launch yesterday members were more explicit. The chairman, Sir Tom Blundell, professor of biochemistry at Cambridge, was asked if the commission was saying the Government should stop at present capacity and consider not a single new airport, terminal or runway. "That's what we are saying," he replied.

The commission agrees air tickets would cost more if capacity were constrained, with demand still rising, as fewer and fewer take-off slots would be bid up in price. Asked if this meant future generations would not be able to travel by air as freely, another commission member, Roland Clift, professor of environmental technology at the University of Surrey, replied: "That's what we are saying." He added: "We recognise we have been a privileged
generation."

The commission recommends other measures to rein back growth in demand for air travel and make its environmental costs show in ticket prices. It says "climate protection charges" should be imposed on aircraft taking off and landing in the EU, and the EU should press for them to be imposed outside Europe.

The report calls for more "transport hubs", where air services link with rail and road services, as opposed to "air hubs", which link only international and local flights. It says short-haul flights and air freight are particularly damaging and ought to be replaced with other forms of transport.

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