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Royal Commission On Environmental Pollution

The Environmental Effects Of Civil Aircraft In Flight…

In a Special Report launched today, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution expresses deep concern about the global impacts of the rapid growth in air travel. Air transport operates globally and its impacts on the atmosphere, particularly those that could result in climate change, could have worldwide consequences.The Chairman, Sir Tom Blundell said:Emissions from aircraft are likely to be a major contributor to global warming if the present increase in air traffic continues unabated. The government shows little sign of having recognised that action to reduce the impacts of air transport is just as important as action in other sectors contributing to climate change. The problems are challenging but it is imperative that environmental priorities are not simply sidelined as being too difficult. If no limiting action is taken, the rapid growth in air transport will proceed in fundamental contradiction to the government`s stated goal of sustainable development. Short-haul passenger flights, such as UK domestic and European journeys, make a disproportionately large contribution to the global environmental impacts of air transport and these impacts are very much larger than those from rail transport over the same point-to-point journey A shift away from the use of air transport over such distances could reap considerable environmental benefits as well as relieving pressure on major airports. Rail transport is demonstrably more sustainable than air transport. The fact that rail transport cannot compete at present, at least in the UK, is a consequence of several factors, but these certainly include a failure to invest in a rail infrastructure and a failure to reflect environmental externalities in the cost of air transport. Instead of encouraging airport expansion and proliferation, it is essential that the government should divert resources into encouraging and facilitating a modal shift from air to high-speed rail for internal UK travel and some intra European journeys.The Royal Commission notes the ambitious targets for technological improvement - such as new airframe and engine designs and alternative fuels - and considers the potential for such developments to mitigate environmental effects. However, the Report concludes that the projected increase in demand will easily outstrip any such technological developments for several decades. The Royal Commission expresses disappointment that international aviation emissions were left out of the Kyoto Protocol and recommends they are included in the emissions trading scheme envisaged as one of the Kyoto Protocol`s implementing mechanisms. In the meantime a charge on aircraft movements to reflect environmental impacts would send an important signal to travellers about the environmental implications of flying, and the revenue generated should be used to develop more environmentally benign transport modes.The continued growth in airfreight is also a major concern. It is so muchmore environmentally damaging than other freight transport modes that itmust be reserved for very high value, and usually perishable, goods. TheRoyal Commission argues that any proposal to expand airfreight movementsmust be examined with particular care. The Chairman said in summing up:

With respect to the expansion of airports across the country, the government has said that `doing nothing is not an option`. This may be so, but it does not mean that the only option is airport expansion. Emphasis should shift towards providing reliable, efficient and more sustainable alternatives to air flight. We urge the government to seize the opportunity presented by its forthcoming White Paper to implement our recommendations at the domestic level, and to argue for their adoption by the EU, and globally, where necessary and appropriate.The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has prepared its own response to the consultation on air transport policy. In it, the SDC argues for a much wider-ranging public debate on the objectives of a sustainable policy for aviation and airport development. SDC member Charles Secrett presented the response at the same press conference as the Royal Commission`s Report.

4th July 2014