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Air Transport Consultation Deeply Flawed

29 November 2002


The Sustainable Development Commission today takes the Government to task for the way it has conducted its consultation on the future of air transport in the UK.

Responding to the Department for Transport's consultation, Commission Chairman Jonathon Porritt said:

'The Government's approach to air transport is stuck in the old mindset of 'predict
and provide'. But asking which airports should be expanded or built before appraising the balance of costs and benefits in any expansion programme is missing the point. It will be crucial to engage the public in a proper debate on how air travel fits into the broader picture of sustainable transport, and how it helps to deliver
sustainable development here in the UK and further afield.'

In its response to the consultation, published today, the Commission says that:

- All Government policy in this area must be founded on the need to take forward its own sustainable development strategy. This document fails that test by taking a narrow focus on the economic benefits of airport development, implicitly accepting that any environmental and social costs, however great, are the necessary price of progress.

- The analysis is based on the flawed and old concept of 'predict and provide', which will only lead to unconstrained growth.

- A full analysis is needed to bring out the true environmental and social costs
imposed by the aviation industry, including those from airports and their users, so
that they can develop innovative ways of meeting those costs.

- We need an engaged national debate, set within a proper sustainable development framework, to explore the balance of the costs and benefits entailed in any airport expansion.

- Climate change is a far more serious issue than is acknowledged at any point in the consultation documents, and the contribution of emissions for air transport much more significant than acknowledged. Unless Government addresses the continuing growth of air transport, this global problem will only get worse.

'It's clearly time for a major rethink. Not least because the Chancellor's pre-budget
statement has reaffirmed the urgency of developing economic instruments to help
the industry reduce its environmental footprint',
added Jonathon Porritt.


Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

The Sustainable Development Commission's view is that the present rate of growth in air traffic is unsustainable in the long or even the medium term; policy should be seeking to manage growth rates towards more sustainable levels.

Whilst aviation has provided economic benefits, there are problems too. Noise and disturbance from air travel are becoming increasingly unacceptable to those under flight paths. Congestion around airports is becoming more acute. Air pollution around airports and at the sensitive boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere is becoming more serious. Above all, carbon dioxide and other emissions from aircraft are a major contributor to climate change.

The SDC's views are reinforced by a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, also published today. 'The Environmental Effects of Civil
Aircraft in Flight' expresses deep concern about the global impacts of the rapid growth in air travel. The report, which accompanies the Royal Commission's own response to the consultation on air transport policy, is launched at the same press conference as the SDC's response. For information about the Royal Commission's work, please contact Rosemary Ferguson on 020 7799 8972.

The SDC is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the leaders of the devolved administrations. Its remit is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it , and build consensus on the actions needed for further progress. The Commission is currently working in the areas of climate change, energy policy, food & farming, health and regeneration. For further information visit http://www.sdcommission.org.uk

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