UK government sets out a long term environmental vision for aviation on climate change and aircraft noise

UK government sets out a long term environmental vision for aviation on climate change and aircraft noise | DfT,DECC,HM Treasury

Wed 18 July 2012 – Whilst the aviation sector is a major contributor to the economy its benefits must be balanced against its costs, particularly climate change and noise, says the UK government in its draft aviation policy framework released for public consultation. The framework, which the government says will form the basis of future sustainable aviation growth in the UK, dodges the controversy over airport expansion around London, but covers in depth aviation’s environmental impacts and how they should be addressed. The government’s objective, it says, is to ensure the aviation sector makes a significant and cost-effective contribution towards reducing global emissions, and to limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.

“This framework aims to strike a balance between allowing the aviation industry to make the most of our current capacity, while also recognising the need for a tough regime to tackle levels of noise experienced by residents on the ground,” said Transport Secretary Justine Greening announcing the consultation, which will run until the end of October.

 “London is already one of the best connected cities in the world, but there is still an important but challenging debate to be had on how we accommodate the long-term growth of aviation. This framework provides the building blocks for this debate and I look forward to working with the industry, residents and other interested parties on this once they have had the chance to consider these measures.”

The UK aviation sector’s turnover was around £49 billion ($76bn) in 2009, and it generated around £17 billion ($26bn) of economic output and employed over 220,000 workers directly and many more indirectly, reports the Aviation Policy Framework 98-page document. Whilst the government’s main objective, it adds, is to ensure that the UK’s air links continue to make it one of the best connected countries in the world, it appears to rule out adding runway capacity in the short term, to 2020, and instead make better use of existing capacity.

Although recognising that there will be a capacity challenge at the biggest airports in the south-east of the UK in the medium and long term, the government acknowledges there is no consensus on how to deal with this, citing insufficient detail on key factors such as environmental sustainability and commercial viability. “We need a strong basis of evidence before we can make decisions on specific solutions,” it says.

As climate change is a global challenge and aviation an international sector, says the document, global action is required to achieve progress on reducing aviation’s climate change impact and national governments have a particularly important role. “We are therefore committed to making progress through ICAO on a global emissions deal and more ambitious technology standards,” says the government. Such a global deal, it says, should be comprehensive, non-discriminatory and ensure that CO2 emissions are not displaced elsewhere.

“The greatest contribution that any single state can make to reducing aviation emissions is to actively support steps towards such a global deal. The UK will therefore continue to push for international agreement to ensure that action is taken at the right level and do everything we can to bring others along with us.”

On current moves at ICAO towards a global aviation climate change agreement, the government says: “While we would have preferred to see more rapid progress, steps are being made in the right direction.”

On the CO2 reduction targets set by the international aviation industry and those closer to home by the Sustainable Aviation UK industry coalition, it adds: “The government welcomes these developments as a clear indication that the aviation industry is taking the problem seriously. We urge the industry to strive towards achieving these objectives and, over time, to raise its level of ambition.”


In the absence of a global agreement, it would continue to support action at a European level through implementation of the EU ETS and the Single European Sky (SES) programme.


At a national level, the government says it is prepared to take unilateral action in support of its climate change objectives “where such action is consistent with our existing international legal obligations.”


The government says it is firmly behind the SES initiative to deliver real fuel and emissions reduction benefits, and also the CAA’s medium and long term strategy to modernise the UK’s airspace system in the context of SES objectives.

To limit or reduce the local impact of aircraft noise, it suggests more can be done to incentivise noise reduction and mitigation around airports, including raising penalties for offending aircraft operators and more effective use of non-regulatory instruments such as differential landing fees. In addition it wants to encourage better engagement between airports and local communities, with more informed debate between stakeholders within Airport Consultative Committees and Air Transport Forums.

The policy document says sustainable biofuels will have a role to play in reducing CO2 emissions from the aviation sector, particularly as there are limited alternatives to fossil fuels. However, these fuels would need to demonstrate worthwhile reductions in full life-cycle emissions, taking into account indirect land use change (ILUC), and the government would need to provide the “right framework to ensure only sustainable biofuels are used.”

It says more consideration is needed about ILUC and the best long term use of available biomass resources. “Once we have a better understanding of these issues we will be in a better position to decide where government intervention may be justified and the extent to which biofuels offer a way forward.”

At a local level, despite considerable advances in quieter aircraft and improvements in operational procedures, the government says noise and other local environmental impacts such as air quality continued to be key concerns for communities living around airports. The government’s objective, it adds, is to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.

Over the last 30 years there had been a significant reduction in the number of people living within the 57 decibels contour around Heathrow and Gatwick airports, acknowledges the government. However, Heathrow accounted for around 70% of people in the UK exposed to noise from airports above 55 decibels and easily exceeded the combined noise impact of all other hub airports in Western Europe. “The government’s opposition to the building of a third runway at Heathrow was, and continues to be, determined in large part by a concern about the noise impacts at the airport,” says the document. “Despite the improvement in the overall noise climate around Heathrow, which has been delivered by quieter aircraft, the number of people affected remains significantly higher than around other airports. The government therefore strongly supports efforts made by Heathrow and its airline community to strive for further noise reductions.”

Meanwhile, the UK Treasury has published its definition of which taxes it deems to be environmental, and includes revenues from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme but not Airline Passenger Duty (APD). The Treasury defines such taxes as fulfilling three principles: the tax is linked to environmental objectives, its primary objective is to encourage environmentally positive behaviour and it is structured in relation to environmental objectives so, for example, the more polluting the behaviour, the greater the tax levied. Taxes such as APD can deliver environmental benefits, but their aim is not environmental but revenue raising, says the government.

With aviation joining the EU ETS from January this year, the Treasury is expecting overall revenues from the EU ETS to more than double in fiscal 2012/13 compared to 2011/12, from £300 million ($470m) to £700 million ($1.1bn).

Following approval from the European Commission Climate Change Committee, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced last week that auctioning of Phase III and aviation emissions allowances under the EU ETS is expected to start in November. The UK expects to auction around 7 million aviation allowances by the end of 2012. In April DECC announced that ICE Futures Europe was its preferred supplier for the contract to conduct auctions of Phase III and aviation allowances.

Department for Transport – Aviation Policy Framework consultation document (pdf)
HM Treasury – Definition of environmental taxes
DECC – EU ETS auction announcement



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