Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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Introducing environmental decision making

5.3.4 Response to national consultation

‘The Future of Aviation’ consultation ended on 12 December 2000 and more than 550 responses were received, with 120 responses from individuals, 106 responses from local authorities, 72 responses from environmental and residential organisations, and 119 responses from airports, airlines and related aviation organisations.

The overwhelming response to the questions about the environmental impacts of aviation was that the ‘polluter should pay’ and that aviation should meet its full ‘external environmental costs’ without benefiting from government subsidies. The taxation of aviation fuel was a major issue raised, although it was felt that this should be agreed at international level by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) (many respondents thought noise and emission standards should also be set by ICAO). Several respondents also said that value added tax (VAT) should be charged on air travel and on the purchase of aircraft. They pointed out that the British government was indirectly subsidising aviation by not taxing aviation fuel. In the mid 20th century, when the international airline industry was beginning to develop, tax had been construed as a major source of conflict as different national governments could charge different levels of tax, especially on fuel, potentially placing national airlines at a disadvantage. So in 1944, during the Chicago Civil Aviation Conference, an international agreement was made to not charge any tax on aviation-related businesses, including aviation fuel and the cost of aircraft. In 1992, the USA introduced the Open Skies Agreement which further liberalised aviation and made it virtually impossible for any national government to unilaterally introduce taxation on aviation.

Some specific responses that challenged both the assumptions and processes outlined in the national consultation document are included below.

  • Airport Watch, a coalition of major environmental NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000 and the Woodland Trust, saw things very differently. The NGOs suggested that a tax on aviation fuel would effectively bring to an end the rising demand for air travel.
  • Friends of the Earth and other NGOs were able to re-run SPASM with the same fuel VAT charges as those on cars (17.5%). The additional increases in travel costs effectively resulted in a significantly reduced number of passengers, rising to 315 million by 2030, and not the 500 million as predicted in the original simulation. This meant that existing runways could accommodate the increase if all capacity was used throughout the United Kingdom – no new runways would have to be built.
  • Many groups also began to question the other assumptions made in the original SPASM simulation. For example, at the time of writing this case study in 2005, the price of oil seems to be ‘stabilising’ at around $65 per barrel, more than double the price originally used, and this is only four years after the original estimate.

Another major criticism was aimed at the decision-making process. At no stage were limiting factors such as CO2 emissions considered. UK emissions of CO2 in 2001 were 572 million tonnes, with aviation contributing 30 million tonnes (DTI, 2003). The Department for Trade and Industry 2003 Energy White Paper set a target of reducing total UK carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Taking this target into account, it is estimated that the UK’s carbon emissions will be reduced to 495 million tonnes by 2020. The emissions resulting from the aviation growth forecasts by the original SPASM simulation would result in a projected 77 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere by 2030, almost 16% of the total allowable emissions. The implications are that the UK population would have to drastically cut CO2 emissions by, for example, reducing car journeys, household heating, and developing renewable and nuclear energy sources, just in order to accommodate the significant growth in emissions from air travel. So not only is aviation subsidised by not paying tax on fuel, but the non-travelling population would have to make additional sacrifices to accommodate the expansion, if the ‘Energy White Paper’ supposed targets are to be met.

Activity 21 Comparing audio interviews

The following audio clip, from a programme called Leading up to the white paper, contains two interviews – one with Mike Fawcett and Chris Cain of the Department for Transport and the second with Peter Ainsworth MP. Mike Fawcett was head of the Airports Policy Division from September 1996 until December 2003 and had overall responsibility for the production of the ‘Aviation White Paper’. Chris Cain worked in the Airports Policy Division from 1999 and was responsible for devising, commissioning and managing the programme of preparatory studies, preparing and undertaking some of the public consultations, and drafting sections of the white paper itself. Peter Ainsworth was chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (i.e. a UK parliamentary committee) at the time the white paper was published. The committee’s remit was ‘to consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development’.

The two interviews present distinct views on the context leading up to the Aviation White Paper and on the process itself. Listen to these interviews and contrast them to your response to Activity 19. Compare your intuitive assessment as a newcomer to the issues with that of people who have been intimately associated with the process.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Leading up to the white paper
Skip transcript: Leading up to the white paper (28 minutes 31 seconds)

Transcript: Leading up to the white paper (28 minutes 31 seconds)

Leading up to the White Paper

BBC World Tonight 16-12-03
'Orville Wright did it 100 years ago tomorrow. Braving heavy rain and wind and lying flat across the lower wing of his biplane, he took to the air above Kitty Hawk Beach in North Carolina for an astonishing 12 seconds.Now we're all defying gravity and it's not about one passenger anymore; in the UK alone we take 180 million flights a year. According to the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, that'll be more like 500 million within 30 years which provides the rationale for today's White Paper on aviation, setting out the Government's case for more runways and airport expansions.But is the plane a curse or a blessing and is cheap flight really as cheap as we think?...'
Commentary
In December 2003 the British Government published its Future of Air Transport White Paper to a storm of controversy. It was widely criticised by a range of individuals, organisations and pressure groups, both within Parliament and outside, for its apparent failure to properly address the environmental impacts of aviation, and for the predictions which it made about growth in demand for flying and the decisions that were subsequently made on that premise.This three part programme critically examines the background and context which led up to the initiation of the White Paper, the research and consultation exercise that was subsequently undertaken and the policy decisions which ultimately were presented in the White Paper itself.You're listening to Part One, which looks at how the major issues addressed by the consultation were decided upon and how the process was formulated.Mike Fawcett was head of the Airports Policy Division at the Department for Transport from September 1996 until the end 2003. He had the overall responsibility for the production of the Future of Air Transport White Paper. He describes the factors that led the Government to initiate the White Paper process.
Mike Fawcett
I think in many ways the immediate motivation and prompt for the White Paper was the report by the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1996, which sort of recommended that there was a need for an up to date air transport policy and particularly on airports.There were many reasons for that.One was that the aviation industry wanted to have a framework within which it could plan. It was also important that people living around airports – local residents – should know what the future might hold. Also so that we could have a more strategic approach to the development of aviation and airports with a sort of long-term broad plan, not a sort of Stalinist five year plan, but a sort of broad strategy for the long term so that it was sort of less piecemeal, perhaps, than hitherto. I think one of the things that sharpened that in the late 1990s was the experience with the Terminal 5 Enquiry where there was perceived to be rather an absence of government policy framework, which meant that there was a lot of time spent in the enquiry trying to establish 'what is the government policy – what is the framework within which this planning enquiry about one particular development was taking place?' A number of things came together to suggest that it would be a good idea to have a long-term strategy.
Commentary
Peter Ainsworth MP is chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee which was highly critical of the White Paper. He believes there were other forces at work behind the initiation of the White Paper.
Peter Ainsworth
I think the whole process was driven by the desire of the industry to see very significant expansion in its capacity and clearly in its profits in the end, but I have nothing against that, but it is the government's job to look at all the issues involved, approach it in a way that balances the competing interests.I guess it was probably time to look again at aviation, there hadn't been any major policy initiatives in that sector for a long time and I certainly believe that the industry had interesting and valuable points to make and one should always listen to that, but I fear what happened was that the impulse being the industry's own commercial interest in expanding and growing, from the moment the process began it was tilted in a certain direction and people who wanted it tilted in an alternative direction were just not really – they were not listened to in a way that altered the basic course which the government had set out on when it began the process.
Commentary
There's certainly no doubt that the massive growth of the aviation industry had put pressure on the government for a clear policy on the expansion of aviation.
Mike Fawcett
The airline industry was deregulated and sort of fairly competitive in the late 1990s but rapidly becoming more competitive with the growth of the low cost airlines really turning the industry upside down and also of course being a sort of big driver of growth in capacity and increasing shortages of airport capacity as a result of the low cost carriers rapidly using up the available capacity.And on the airport side there was also a sort of tendency and a move during perhaps the 1990s as a whole to more privately owned airports and a more active competition between airports – not uniformly across the country - clearly BAA is still in a very strong position in the South–East market, but certainly an increased level of competition between airports around the country and so that was another factor that changed quite a lot since the previous White Paper, which was 1985, and which was famously described during the Terminal 5 Enquiry as 'getting a bit yellow round the edges'.
Commentary
While not disputing the factors behind the growth in the aviation industry, Peter Ainsworth suggests that the government seems to have looked at aviation in isolation from other major policy areas.
Peter Ainsworth
Well, I think the thing that they should have looked at right at the start was the way in which growth in aviation, which obviously has been massive over recent years, is compatible with other very important government objectives, in particular their objectives on climate change. And I don't believe that that was factored in.I think what we saw was a reaction to consumer demand for virtually unlimited travel, and the pressures that that was putting on infrastructure and capacity particularly in the South East, and not a holistic view of how all this fitted in with other bits of Government policy.So clearly demand for air travel has risen astronomically, it is still actually quite a young industry – if you think of when package holidays started, it is only about thirty five years ago – so if you look at the graph of air travel it has gone shooting up and I think there was an assumption that it would continue in the same kind of trajectory. Now I don't know, I believe in fact that that assumption was not challenged, and I think that should have been factored in much earlier on as well.
Commentary
So how much did the Government's own policy on climate change feature in the initiation stages of the process? Mike Fawcett again:
Mike Fawcett
That was probably not a very major factor in the decision to start the process, which was taken sort of back in the late '90s – a commitment to start the study, leading to the White Paper, was set out in John Prescott's 1998 transport White Paper.But the emerging policy on global warming and carbon emissions was certainly a very important factor that was changing during the sort of process of developing the White Paper on air transport, was a sort of very major topic of debate amongst the various stakeholders and also, of course, within Government. And that became a very big factor in the process of developing the policy that led to the White Paper.
Commentary
But even when climate change had become a major topic of debate, Mike Fawcett claims that the global affects of aviation were judged 'best dealt with at a global level' and that other important national interests had to be addressed.
Mike Fawcett
The debates that sort of led to policy and the White Paper did take place at a lot of levels, the thinking about global warming was a good example of that, because it's a problem that is global and I think there was sort of large measure of agreement among the sort of actors in the UK that it was a problem best tackled at a global level through global agreements, and particularly in aviation, a lot of things are decided through global agreements and it's jolly difficult to change them at any lower level.But equally this was a very important White Paper for sort of national policy, both in terms of sort of economic growth in the UK and meeting the aspirations of UK citizens, but also affecting in all sorts of ways the environment in the UK in a very big way.At a regional level affecting regional growth, regional development, thinking about the balance of economic growth in the north and south of the UK; the sort of aspirations of regions for growth which were very different in different parts of the UK.And at a local level obviously for many people absolutely critical – where people living close to airports are extremely concerned about noise and pollution and traffic and other factors. So, it was a sort of complex set of issues at a lot of different levels.
Commentary
Chris Cain worked with Mike Fawcett in the Airports Policy Division of the Department for Transport, and initially had responsibility for the programme of preparatory studies informing preparation of the White Paper across the UK.
Chris Cain
The industry impacts at all these different levels, and there are different issues that happen at these different spatial levels. And actually approaches and views are different as you go between the different levels.And actually what you are ending up having to do is not simply trying to decide a global issue or a local issue, but balance off these different spatial dimensions to the particular problem that you're dealing with in turn. It's a very complicated process.
Commentary
And pressure was building on the Government from the aviation industry itself as Mike Fawcett explains.
Mike Fawcett
There was certainly an urgency about running out of capacity, particularly runway capacity, and particularly at some of the main airports in the South East of England. They weren't the only ones but they were perhaps the ones that were concerning a lot of people, and not just people in the South East, but often regions who depended on connections to the major London airports for their sort of connections to other parts of the world and, for instance, people in Scotland – very concerned about the effects on economic growth if connections to Heathrow, in particular, became less good.
Commentary
Peter Ainsworth doesn't disagree.
Peter Ainsworth
It seems in retrospect that the Government was under considerable pressure from the aviation industry from airport owners and from airlines themselves to increase capacity because that industry had been growing extremely fast, wanted to grow faster and felt that there were going to be constraints on their ability to grow unless something changed, unless we had a considerable expansion and that was where the pressure was coming from, and that is the pressure to which the Government has responded.
Commentary
Ainsworth also thinks that some of the pressure was because the aviation industry felt it might lose out to European competition if something wasn't done to increase capacity in the UK.
Peter Ainsworth
I think the UK aviation industry was concerned and remained rightly from their point of view, concerned about competition from other airports within Europe, Schipol in particular, and didn't want to see the UK losing out with big expansions going on just over the Channel and finding that we were kind of becoming a poor relation in terms of capacity and their industry's ability to compete.Those are perfectly legitimate issues for the aviation industry to raise, but it is of course the Government's job to filter those representations through its policy objectives overall, and to come out with something which is balanced and consistent, and I think that is what failed to happen.
Commentary
Whatever the pressures and the context within which the White Paper process started, historically it was a new departure from the way airport planning had been carried out hitherto. Chris Cain:
Chris Cain
They basically had to go through the standard planning procedures that were applied to any kind of major development. Another example, Terminal 5, is the classic one that everybody's aware of – but there is the Manchester Second Runway Enquiry was another example of that.And for most types of significant development at an airport – if you look at something like a runway extension or a new terminal – they are big developments, that they're significant, the impacts are significant and therefore would be subject to an awful lot of scrutiny, but there was effectively things were being dealt with on an ad hoc basis, as they came forward. It's kind of a laissez faire approach.You'd have to make the case at specific airports based on specific local factors. There was no overarching strategy about where the best place to develop new capacity would be, what the best way of managing that process of development, how best to look at mitigating impacts – all of those things were being dealt with on a case by case basis rather than in a broad structure.
Commentary
Despite the fact that the new process was recognition of the need for a cohesive approach to aviation planning, Peter Ainsworth still found it flawed.
Peter Ainsworth
They went about it in quite an interesting way in that they did it on a regional basis initially, and that seemed to me at the time quite odd because it is hard to justify something which is clearly of national and indeed, if you take its environmental impact, its of global importance, being broken down and dealt with on a regional basis.And so you had all of these different regional enquiries and consultations going on which didn't actually refer to each other. That was a flaw I think in the way that the Government approached this and made it harder for them to tie together something that had a kind of overall consistency, a national consistency and when they came to produce the White Paper itself.
Commentary
But the Department for Transport maintain that a regional approach to the process was required because of the complex mix of factors and interactions at every location.
Mike Fawcett
There were a lot of different factors that we had to look at with a lot of interactions between them. So, for instance, to take a very simple example, the amount of noise that you would get round an airport depended very heavily on the amount of aircraft traffic using that location, and the amount of traffic using the location depended on what development was happening there and at other airports in the area, and what sort of growth of traffic, different types of traffic would be. So, I mean there were a lot of complex interactions that we had to look at in trying to assess the likely environmental effects and, of course, looking over a very long time frame of thirty years, which certainly posed some challenges.
Chris Cain
The starting point has to be to understand the kinds of developments that might be required, then understand their impacts and then to try to find the right balance between those two things.I think it's also fair to say that the environmental debate got significantly stronger during what was a long process, and as Mike indicated earlier, what we had to try and do was reflect the strength and changing nature of the environmental debate over the five year period where we were looking at options, so that by the time we got to that, that had been thoroughly integrated into the final policy.
Commentary
But Peter Ainsworth thinks that consideration of the environmental impacts of aviation, and in particular climate change, should have been integrated into the process from the start.
Peter Ainsworth
Well I would like to think that we would have factored in at a much earlier stage the environmental impact of aviation.This is the big – this is why it is an interesting and also a controversial issue because, yes, everyone likes to go on cheap foreign holidays there is no question about that, but there is a huge environmental cost. Not just in terms of the impact on the local environment of noise, of pollution, of deteriorating air quality, of sleepless nights, of land take, biodiversity, all those kind – the impact on historic buildings that get the National Trust for example very excited, but also of course in terms of the affect on climate change.In the end, we are either serious about tackling climate change or we are not and there is no more glaring example that I can think of in terms of today's politics, of a failure to join up thinking about climate change with another policy area, in this case obviously aviation.
Commentary
The DfT team contend that they were trying to incorporate a whole range of environmental impacts and mitigating factors into their methodology and modelling exercise, as objectively as possible, so as not to prejudice the eventual outcome in policy terms.
Mike Fawcett
At the outset it was certainly recognised that we needed to sort of identify the environmental impacts to get a bit more certainty into what had perhaps previously just been a sort of fear of just terrible continuing growth and what does that mean, and people understandably had fears that this would just mean horrendously more noise and horrendously more road traffic and so on.And so it was getting some sort of quantification of that and taking account of likely future technological developments, but also not just sort of accepting a certain sort of rate of improvement of, for instance, aircraft technology, but also trying to understand where we could drive that process to get a better reconciliation between sort of aviation growth and environmental impact and to get a sort of lower rate of impact per unit of growth that was one of the things that we were trying to do.
Chris Cain
When we started the process of study we had to do an awful lot of work to develop a methodology which would allow us to objectively evaluate different kinds of propositions, and that in itself – developing the modelling tools, the analysis frameworks – was quite a significant exercise before you could start looking at ranges of scenarios and options. And critical was that that analysis had to be objective, it had to be thorough, and it had to be capable of standing close scrutiny.We didn't want to come with preconceived ideas as to what the best solution at a particular airport would be. And in some cases that raised options which were very controversial.But it was very important to not have preconceptions and to be able to basically consult upon the widest possible range, and then use the consultation responses we got to help formulate and frame policy based on a well-founded set of analysis which we could be confident of.We were trying to get if you like a robust factual analysis rather than a lot of speculation, to try and give people some real facts and figures rather than a lot of, er – it almost became second or third hand opinions – which weren't terribly well founded in terms of the analysis.
Commentary
So what specific issues did the DfT try to resolve within the process itself?
Mike Fawcett
I think there were perhaps two broad types of issue. There were some broad policy questions and the issue of just how much growth of aviation in the UK should there be, taking account of on the one hand the economic benefits from growth of aviation, both for UK businesses increasingly operating on an international and indeed global level and for sort of attracting inward tourism to the UK. And, on the other hand the clear environmental impacts of aviation at both a local level and at a global level, not least in respect of global warming.So, there was sort of a big policy issue there which sort of overlay everything that we were looking at.But also at a sort of more local level, there were sort of trade-offs on the amount of development at a particular airport and the particular location of development – whether it's a new runway or a new terminal there were clearly, in almost all cases, several options that could be considered with a range of different impacts, and so what we wanted to do at that level was to identify as far we could, the plausible options. Maybe we didn't always identify sort of, precisely what they might be, but the sort of plausible broad options and assess the environmental – and indeed economic – impacts of those options to sort of try and identify, well, you know, if we're going to have any growth at all at this location, what is the more promising source of option?So it was those two different levels of sort of thinking and activity.
Commentary
The Environmental Audit Committee also criticised some of the economic benefits which were assumed in the DfT's model.
Peter Ainsworth
We have currently in this country a balance of trade deficit in tourism of 15 billion pounds. Now you build more capacity, more people are going to leave the country aren't they? The sums aren't very difficult to work out.It is often argued that we need more capacity because of the tourism industry, well actually the tourism industry is leaving the country and spending money elsewhere, so I don't think that works.When my committee started criticising the Government – and looking very hard at the way that they had approached all of this, we discovered that actually there had been very very little work done on who was going to be doing all this extra flying around, and ministers kept repeating the mantra, you know, this Government is not a Government that is going to price people off planes' – they haven‘t worked out who the people were.Whether the 50% roughly who don't fly at all at the moment were suddenly going to start flying a lot, or whether given the increased capacity, the 50% who do fly a lot are simply going to fly more and go to their homes in the South of France ... no analysis has been done about who was actually going to be creating this additional demand, and I think that is a terrible weakness.I mean these are huge decisions, these are decisions which are going to affect the landscape and the environment for hundreds if not thousands of years, they are going to affect communities, they are going to affect where jobs are created, they are going to affect all sorts of infrastructure and to do that without actually working out who is this for, I think is extraordinary.
Commentary
There's no doubt that a host of impacts were considered by the DfT during the process, but not it appears ways of mitigating the growth in demand for airtravel.
Mike Fawcett
A lot of the assessment work was of a wide range of environmental impacts, both at the global level of what would be the effect on total levels of emissions of greenhouse gases, through to the effects locally of particular development options on a wide range of different factors – both the sort of natural environment, the built environment, factors affecting people, like noise, factors affecting communities, severance, and effects on sort of landscapes and views, effects on things like sort of water supplies, I'm not sure I remember all of them – a wide range of factors and then trying to bring that together into a sort of holistic assessment of different options.
Peter Ainsworth
We moved away from a predict and provide approach, or thought we had, towards road building.Demand for driving cars is virtually limitless. It is mitigated by price, but is virtually limitless and if you try to meet that demand you will end up with a whole country one big piece of asphalt – covered in cars that aren't moving because there is a traffic jam.So we moved away from that, we don't seem to have a Government at the moment that is prepared to move away from predict and provide when it comes to aviation and that is a mind set, I think that's a mind set within the Department of Transport and it needs to change.
End transcript: Leading up to the white paper (28 minutes 31 seconds)
Leading up to the white paper (28 minutes 31 seconds)
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