Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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Introducing environmental decision making

5.5 Reaction to the Aviation White Paper

The immediate reaction by the aviation industry was highly favourable. It was clearly apparent that almost all of the demands of the aviation industry had been met. Andrew Cahn, British Airways director of government affairs, was quoted in the 17 December 2003 issue of The Guardian newspaper as saying: ‘I have to say, we’re pretty delighted ’.

On the other hand the majority of the organisations representing environmental perspectives accused the government of abdicating its environmental responsibilities. The climate change targets for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions were not tackled at all while the procedures for payments of environmental impacts were left unclear. Who, for example, was going to get the 5p per passenger per flight for the noise impacts? How was the £20 levy on ticket prices going to cover the permanent climate change damage of greenhouse gas emissions?

Activity 24 Critique of the white paper

Listen to the audio programme titled Critique of the white paper. This includes the Department for Transport’s account of the final decision and a critique from Peter Ainsworth MP and Richard Dyer of Friends of the Earth.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Critique of the white paper
Skip transcript: Critique of the white paper (23 minutes 28 seconds)

Transcript: Critique of the white paper (23 minutes 28 seconds)

Critique of the white paper

BBC Today 08/06/04

Charlotte Green
The Government will be accused today of not taking seriously the environmental threat posed by ever increasing air travel. The criticism will be led by members of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee during a debate on aviation policy...
Jim Naughty
...the Commons Environmental Audit Committee has given the Government a bit of a pasting in its latest report, on aviation policy and global warming, accusing ministers of being irresponsible and intellectually dishonest. Now the Aviation White Paper which was published at the end of last year is debated by...
Commentary
Mike Fawcett was head of the Department for Transport's Airport Policy Division. He was responsible for the production of the White Paper until its publication in December 2003, and he describes its overall strategy.
Mike Fawcett
One of the central decisions in the White Paper was about the amount of development of aviation in the UK over the period to 2030, and that involved a range of developments at airports all round the UK.In some airports – perhaps not so dramatic – it would be a more a sort of incremental development making fuller use of existing runways and adding terminal capacity and taxi-ways and other facilities to cater for increased numbers of passengers. But in other cases, and particularly in the South East I mean we were looking at some very dramatic developments with very large impacts and, in particular, in terms of the sort of number of possible new runways at airports in the South East and that was clearly one of the central decisions that ministers had to take, and in doing that we had to look at the forecast growth of demand, taking account of the fact that we were looking a long way ahead and there are inevitably some degrees of uncertainty in forecasting demand so far ahead. And so we didn't want to pretend that this was a sort of absolute certainty and sort of absolutely rigid. I mean, I think it's fair to say that if the sort of full forecast demand actually materialises, then there would have been an economic argument for perhaps having more capacity – perhaps three new runways in the South East but, as I say, with considerable uncertainties and also, of course, with very large environmental impacts and with the potential for blight of a lot of people, a lot of areas over a very long period.So, in the end, I mean, ministers concluded that it would be sensible to plan for two new runways in the South East because that would give very large economic benefits – there would be a sort of high level of certainty that that level of capacity would be well utilised and, of course the environmental impacts would be less than with three new runways.
Commentary
The Department for Transport team certainly believe strongly that the process that led up to the White Paper was carried out in an objective and rigorous way.Chris Cain managed both the preparatory and regional consultation phases:
Chris Cain
In terms of the various stages, the way we went about it, the material that was put in the public domain – even if different interests didn't necessarily agree with the conclusions, I think that there was actually quite a lot of respect for the way we went about it and the amount and quality of analysis that went into informing the debate and ultimately, obviously, making sure that ministers had the right material to come to conclusions and, if you like, that was the job of the officials and, obviously, people take their own view about the outcome of the White Paper.
Commentary
But Peter Ainsworth who chairs the Commons Environmental Audit Committee feels that despite the elaborate process and consultation, the final decision was highly unsatisfactory:
Peter Ainsworth
Heathrow is one of the world's leading airports, it is where the airlines want to go, and so there was huge pressure from the industry to develop Heathrow, that is what they really wanted, however there are capacity constraints at Heathrow and there are also, as we know, issues to do with the air quality around there.So Stansted comes into the frame because it – there are greater opportunities for expanding, providing you don't mind about the local countryside, quality of life, air quality in that part of Essex, it is on paper easier to expand there.Gatwick is a more constrained site as well, there are physical difficulties about expanding there and of course they have left a question mark hanging over what they are going to do at Gatwick, it all depends on what happens with air quality at Heathrow, which is itself a fairly invidious situation. Another flaw of this whole process is that they went through all the public consultation, they did a huge amount of work, they spent vast quantities of public money on putting together this White Paper and they ended up with a kind of half answer – yes – we are going to do Stansted, might do Heathrow and well if we can't then we will do Gatwick – that's not an answer!
Commentary
The main criticism levelled at the Aviation White Paper was that it failed to address properly the environmental impacts of aviation expansion and in failing to do so was at odds with the Government's own policy on climate change, but Mike Fawcett says that there was extensive consultation with DEFRA, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Mike Fawcett
I think, the approach that the Government took to climate change and the environment which was, I mean, very much a, a consensus. I mean, there was a lot of discussion between Department of Transport and DEFRA at both official and ministerial level, and over a period of some months so that we, sort of, you know, worked together to understand the objectives of each department and what were the options and what was the best way of tackling this.And that's what led to the conclusion of the White Paper that we should aim for a considerable development of aviation with all the benefits that that brings to the British economy and the British people, but also that we should ensure that aviation is covering its external costs and its environmental costs as part of that, including its impact on global warming. And so the decision in the White Paper that the UK should press within international bodies, such as the European Union, and at a global level, for measures to ensure that aviation is covering those costs, in particular through sort of bringing aviation within systems of carbon trading so that we could get the control and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but in a way which sort of allowed flexibility to find well what are the ways of doing that, that sort of had the least damaging economic impact – and not just looking within one sector like aviation, but looking across sectors, so that, we can get the result we want, on greenhouse gases, while sort of having the minimum damage to economic factors and, I mean, that was one of the foremost issues that ministers and officials were discussing collectively.
Commentary
Friends of the Earth's Richard Dyer rejects the notion that any carbon trading scheme will be enough to mitigate the environmental effects of the massive growth in aviation planned in the White Paper.
Richard Dyer
There is this bland assurance that the Emissions Trading Scheme will solve all in terms of the environmental problems, particularly climate change impacts. But no assessment, really, to look at how the Emissions Trading Scheme might affect the growth in flights, and what that might mean for runway capacity.So it's like, let's assume that we need this capacity and let's go ahead and provide it, rather than taking stock of what needs to be done in terms of meeting climate targets and what changes in the economy might mean to those growth projections.
Commentary
Peter Ainsworth's criticism is also focused on the Government's failure to address aviation's impact on climate change.
Peter Ainsworth
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.So I think the right thing to have done would have been to have placed far more emphasis on its environmental impacts, which are the controversial thing about developing aviation infrastructure, and bind them into the process much earlier, instead of receiving a huge hail of bullets from environmental NGOs and local campaign groups and so on, but basically brushing them off and say, 'Sorry, we are going to do this anyway, and by the way it is very balanced', which of course it isn't. My only question is how at national level does the British Government square its commitment to reducing C02 emissions with its commitment to trebling airport capacity. I haven't had an answer to that question.And that is why I have criticised this White Paper and the entire policy as being based on a predict and pride approach towards aviation, something which I know the Department of Transport vehemently denies, but actually denial is no replacement for argument – they predicted a huge increase over the next thirty years in the amount of air travel that will be required and they plan to meet it – that is predict and provide.
Commentary
Furthermore he feels very strongly that the main beneficiaries of the outcome will be the aviation industry itself.
Peter Ainsworth
To the extent that it increases the capacity of the aviation industry to ferry people around the world in an unsustainable way, they benefit. I suppose it could be argued that there might be some economic benefits in the Stansted area, although I think the economic benefits of aviation have actually been exaggerated.I mean a lot of the jobs involved in aviation are pretty poor quality jobs, and if the overall intention is to build a sort of hub facility so that people fly in, change planes and move on somewhere else, well who actually benefits from that?I mean, to the extent that capacity has increased, of course the aviation industry benefits, the airlines benefit, BAA which owns Stansted benefits, although I think they themselves would rather see developments at Heathrow.
Commentary
Richard Dyer agrees:
Richard Dyer
It's obvious that the aviation industry have done extremely well out of this – they are generally very pleased with the publication of the White Paper and the proposals it contained.They probably would have liked Heathrow a bit sooner, but they are getting pretty much what the want. And I suppose in a sense some of the public are very much used to the availability of cheap flights. That would seem to be looking to continue.But put that in perspective, that's mainly much better off people benefiting from that, rather than new opportunities being provided for less well off people. The statistics show that it's mainly ABC 1s, the top social groups, the higher social groups, that are flying more often and will fly more and more often with this growth than the less well off people flying. There is still fifty per cent of the population that don't fly.So in a way it's getting us used to unsustainable habits that can't go on, because in a sense the climate impacts particularly of the sector are increasing rapidly. The trend just can't continue if we are going to have any chance of tackling climate change, even if we take quite radical steps with other sectors of industry and the economy to cut carbon emissions.Aviation poses quite a severe threat to that, so things are heading in completely the wrong direction.It's really living in cloud cuckoo land to expect the industry to continue to expand as it has done and continue to benefit from the effective tax breaks that it gets which are driving the low cost of flights and therefore the growth in flights.
Commentary
Both Peter Ainsworth and Richard Dyer point out that the context within which environmental debate and decisions take place has changed since the beginning of the aviation White Paper process.
Peter Ainsworth
There has been a change in the science, there has been a change in the oil price and there has been a change in the terms of debate around the world – not in America I have to say – I was listening to a man from the Federal Aviation Industry at a conference the other day who said that they weren't really worried about climate change and aviation.Now that is them, we don't have to go that way. There are more and more people now who realise that aviation has huge long term and damaging consequences for the environment and we need to rethink what we are doing.
Richard Dyer
I think a number of things have happened, the price of oil has increased dramatically and we don't really know what is going to happen with that in the longer term, but I think it would be fair to say that oil is going to become scarcer and scarcer so we can expect it to become a long term trend that oil is more expensive.I think we have also seen climate change rise up the political agenda and also in public awareness as well. Certainly this year I have been very much aware of the amount of attention in the media that climate change has had, and aviation's impact on climate change particularly. And I think in a way we are at the very early stages of this awareness building, in a way that perhaps the impact, of road building say fifteen years ago or so, when it wasn't really questioned that you just build new roads to solve a problem or to deal with a rise in road traffic and congestion. And now that certainly is questioned. And I think we are at the very early stages of aviation industry of that realisation that we can't really go on as we are. Only this summer we had front pages of some of the broadsheet newspapers with big articles on aviation's climate change impacts, and travel writers in many of the big newspapers now writing about sustainable travel and about aviation's climate impacts in a way that one journalist said to me recently: 'We wouldn't have done this a year ago. Our editors wouldn't be interested in it.' So I think public awareness has got a long way to go, but it's certainly rising on this issue.
Commentary
Some have suggested that advances in aircraft technology could provide an environmental fix.
Peter Ainsworth
I am interested in some of the technological advances which the industry is talking about and they sooner they come the better. I mean to the extent that they can mitigate noise, that they can mitigate pollution, that they can mitigate the impact on climate change, these technological developments are great. The trouble is, in the context of overwhelming growth forecasts and building airport capacity to enable that growth to take place, those technological advances are going to be a drop in the ocean. They are really not going to make any difference at all and they won't make any difference until you can devise a technology which doesn't use fossil fuel to get aeroplanes off the ground.So I welcome that, and there is a lot of good work going on, but actually, in the end, it is about how serious we are about climate change, and I am sorry to keep coming back to it, but that is actually the bottom line, and if we are serious about it, and my goodness we need to be, then we are going to have to constrain the growth that aviation wants to see in the years ahead.
Richard Dyer
We simply can't have the rate of growth that we have been experiencing and what's projected in the future to continue. It's possible that we could accommodate some growth in flights, perhaps what technology could accommodate. We can expect probably about a one per cent efficiency improvements in aircraft technology. But we are seeing growth in this country of more than six per cent a year at the moment, and with no prospect of a radical change of aircraft technology to solve the problem it's simply irresponsible to go on increasing the amount that we fly.
Commentary
But what would be the effectiveness of other proposals to limit aviation's growth?
Richard Dyer
They have already said they want to bring in Aviation Emissions Trading – this is the European Commission – I think we could see quite a firm proposal on the design of that scheme and that's really critical because emissions trading can be an ineffective sop to the industry or it can be a very effective tool in combating aircraft emissions. So the devil is really going to be in the detail as far as that goes.Some parts of the industry want emissions trading scheme that just covers intra-EU flights – flights between European airports – and we and the European Commission want the emissions trading scheme to cover all departures from the EU airports. So that would cover flights say to the US from our airports in the EU and the amount of emissions that the scheme would cover radically differs depending upon which of those options you go for.
Commentary
Peter Ainsworth favours focusing on taxation as a means of controlling aviation growth.
Peter Ainsworth
They get a very favourable tax deal at the moment, there is no tax on aviation fuel, for example, there is no VAT on tickets. You can't impose tax on aviation fuel without getting an international agreement to do so and there are obstacles about that, but we should at least be discussing that in an international context.We have a thing called air passenger duty in this country which everyone pays, but which is not related in any way to the emissions that come out of the back end of an aeroplane.So having an emissions charge would, I think, be a creative thing to do, I personally and what my committee recommended would like to see the proceeds of that reinvested in technologies which can help reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.So there are all sorts of fiscal measures that you can achieve, you can contain the problem by not trebling airport capacity, but by building perhaps on a more limited scale, you can explain to the public by telling them on their tickets how much carbon that journey is releasing into the atmosphere and people are – there is a huge public ignorance about this, people think that a £19 flight to Malaga is just that. Actually there are huge potential costs attached to that for which nobody is paying at the moment, that needs to be reflected. So public awareness grows and the true cost of aviation is actually borne by those who want to fly.
Commentary
Richard Dyer thinks that sooner or later we are all going to have to make choices about the environmental costs of our lifestyles.
Richard Dyer
The Government have commendably taken climate change quite seriously, at least with their words, but they should be saying things like 'well we have got to make decisions about where these cuts are going to come from in terms of CO2'. It's going to mean decisions eventually about how much you can drive your car, and weighing that up with how many cheap flights do you want, or are you allowed to have any cheap flights or can you heat your home and have cheap flights?I am sticking my neck out here, but it's eventually we are going to be looking at decisions like that if we carry on going down the road that we are going down because we can't have everything.We have got to cut carbon emissions from all sources, and aviation has got to play its part in that, and I don't think at the moment the Government are being honest in presenting the depth of the problem as it actually is.
Commentary
So who will be the losers if aviation grows unfettered in the way that's been predicted and planned for in the Aviation White Paper?
Peter Ainsworth
People who live near the airport lose out, they lose out because of noise, pollution and all the environmental problems and because aviation has a particularly intense impact on climate change, we all lose.
Richard Dyer
We all lose out to an extent obviously from climate change when it eventually kicks in much more strongly, but also in a sense, the less well off amongst us are losing out because you know the loss to the public purse of this income.So, effectively we are subsidising better off people to fly more often, and that money could be going towards public services that benefit all and perhaps more less well off people, and that seems a crazy state of affairs when something is, you know, such an environmentally damaging form of transport and it's mainly a leisure activity as well.The growth is mainly going to be in leisure travel, rather than business travel, that arguably has more benefit to the economy.
Commentary
Richard Dyer predicts that the Government's plans are unlikely to be carried out without serious challenges from at least some sections of the public.
Richard Dyer
I think in the long term it's quite likely that we will see some sort of direct action. Communities around airports are getting increasingly angry.We get contacted every few weeks by a new group that's formed, totally shocked and angry about some new proposal that's been published by their local airport. Those impacts are going to be felt all over the place and so I think people are getting very angry – you hear about public meetings where hundreds of people couldn't get in to the small room the meeting was booked for because people are so angry. Those fears are going to be brought more into reality when we start to see diggers out there and the first signs of concrete on the ground. I think that's when you could see direct action taking place. It's certainly feasible and it's happened recently on road schemes, so I certainly wouldn't rule it out.
Commentary
Only time will tell what the outcome will be, but even during the consultation process, Norman Mead the General Secretary of Stop Stansted Expansion was warning of militant action:
Norman Mead
I stress straight away we're not Swampies.What does concern me is there are a lot of people who we've been holding back at the moment who wish to take far more militant action than we have seen fit; they've gone along with us so far, and all credit to them for doing it, but I will have a job holding them back if proposals like that come to the fore. They will be looking at closing runways and stopping up the airport and things like that. And I won't be able to stop them at that point.
End transcript: Critique of the white paper (23 minutes 28 seconds)
Critique of the white paper (23 minutes 28 seconds)
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Drawing on the Critique of the white paper programme and the rest of the case study material, review the decision-making process of the Aviation White Paper and the context within which it evolved.

  1. Who were the decision makers? How did they arrive at their position of decision making? Which resources did they control? Which values underpinned their actions?
  2. What was the decision situation? What was the context? What were the uncertainties? What actual and potential risks were involved?
  3. What problems were posed by the decision makers? Which opportunities were apparent to them?
  4. Which criteria did the decision makers adopt to structure the decision-making process?
  5. Within which time-frame did the decision-making process occur, and what sequence did the various components take?
  6. Who were the people affected by the decision? How was their participation in the decision-making process managed?
  7. What kinds of decision support (theories, tools and techniques) were in evidence in the Aviation White Paper decision-making process?

Discussion

  1. Alistair Darling, the then Minister of Transport, was clearly the person with the final say in the Aviation White Paper. His mandate to govern as Minister for Transport was awarded to him by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister. The whole Aviation White Paper process was, in fact, underpinned by a series of decisions, such as the assumptions within the SPASM modelling, and yet the principal decision makers within the Department for Transport seem to have had a strong role in selecting outcomes which favoured airport expansion and significant resources were available.
  2. The decision situation was certainly complex. Decision makers started in an environment where very little was known and studies needed to be initiated to provide quick results on predicted capacity and social, economic and environmental impacts. The decision makers had to balance local national interests and international obligations (chiefly as climate change), stakeholders from industry, the environmental movement and local residents, short-term gains and long-term impacts. The latter were highly uncertain, ranging from predicated capacity needs to socio-economic benefits to environmental effects. At risk were principally short-term political careers, competitiveness of UK aviation-related business and, in the long term, people’s health.
  3. The problems posed by the decision makers from the initial lack of an airport expansion strategy included loss of competitiveness of the UK aviation industry with capacity taken up in mainland Europe, and the risk of a protracted and costly public inquiry on submission of a development proposal. The opportunities included developing a clear strategy for expansion that supposed balanced social, economic and environmental impacts. I actually think that the decision makers saw environmental impacts as a minor concern, with the notion of ‘develop now, clean up later’ (preferably by someone in the next generation) firmly in their minds. Resolving the environmental impact of aviation was therefore seen as an opportunity.
  4. The rhetoric in the Aviation White Paper process was very much based around balancing socio-economic benefits and environmental impacts. One of the main criteria used was monetary valuation, i.e. that social, economic and environmental issues could be costed and compared so as to support decision making. Interested parties were consulted but there was no participation in determining the decision-making process and, indeed, the criteria which actually resulted in the final decision are unknown since deliberations were carried out behind closed doors.
  5. The Aviation White Paper process occurred over the 2000–03 time period when major worldwide events were taking place which could have significantly affected the development (the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, preparation for war in Iraq, etc.). Yet the process did not seem to have adapted to the evolving worldwide situation.
  6. The people involved can be divided into those under the direct influence of the decision – the travelling public, the aviation industry and related businesses, the residents surrounding airports, the environmental movement, and the various governing bodies (DfT, local councils, etc.); those under indirect influence – the taxpayer (through subsidies to the aviation industry); and those potentially affected by aviation’s contribution to climate change.
  7. Mathematical modelling to predict capacity requirements played a key role in the decision-making process. Cost–benefit analysis was also a significant technique used. Other techniques used included mapping, questionnaires and a wide range of environmental sampling techniques at the sites proposed for development.
‘And our new cups are made of environmentally-friendly materials, sir!’
Figure 27 ‘And our new cups are made of environmentally-friendly materials, sir!’
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