HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc168-74WH 11.30 am
Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

I am grateful to Madam Speaker for agreeing to this Adjournment debate on aircraft emissions and the Kyoto protocol. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Minister is as pleased as I am; he is dealing with at least three Adjournment debates, following the work that he did in winding up the debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill last night. I am pleased that he is here as the Aviation Minister.

The recently pubished draft United Kingdom programme for dealing with climate change has a thermometer on the front cover, with the red of the mercury going up to, but not reaching, a pictogram of an aircraft, clearly depicting that as yet the Government have a limited programme for dealing with aircraft emissions, as shown on pages 91 and 92. Furthermore, we are still waiting for the civil aviation daughter paper to the main White Paper on integrated transport, published by the Government in early 1999. The purpose of this debate is to ask the Government to flesh out the options for action.

The Minister will know of the Adjournment debate that I secured on the need to remove all night flights from Heathrow, the need for strict controls on noise and the lack of a need for terminal 5. Those concerns form the backdrop to this debate.

The intergovernmental panel on climate change in 1999 estimated that aircraft might be responsible for 5 to 6 per cent. of the warming caused by greenhouse gases. However, some of the study's authors believe that the figure could be 10 per cent. or more—that is, amounting to more than half the global warming potential emissions from road transport. Emissions from aircraft are alleged to be doubling every 10 years. The Kyoto protocol excludes aircraft because the negotiators could not agree on how to allocate responsibility for emissions made during international flights.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation prepared its own special report on aviation and the global atmosphere, in which it confirmed those figures. The Kyoto negotiators at last put aircraft emissions back on the agenda at the fifth conference of the parties—COPS—in Bonn last October. However, emission reductions of 60 to 80 per cent. on 1990 levels by 2050 are needed to stabilise the earth's climate systems, according to the IPCC. Clearly, a world agreement is needed and I look forward to the Government taking a strong line at COP6 in the Netherlands this autumn.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his successful advocacy earlier this month to his European Union colleagues, securing agreement to the basis for an aircraft fuel kerosene tax. The discussions now move to the ICAO meeting next week. It is important that a worldwide agreement is reached. If such a tax were imposed only in the EU, avoidance tactics might be used elsewhere. I should like a commitment that the proceeds of such a tax will be used to commence work on the zero-emission engines and aircraft that will be needed in the next 50 years; only a zero-emission aircraft requirement will ensure that the availability of flying to the people of the world is not restricted.

At an excellent display in the mind zone of the dome, the audience is asked questions on the impact of emissions from aircraft, and it is stated that 99 per cent. of the people of the world have never flown and should do so only if their flying does not harm the atmosphere. Furthermore, such an expansion in the availability of flights requires an airports policy for the 21st century, with new airports well away from conurbations with high-speed train links. Terminal 5, with its supposed 8 per cent. ceiling on more flights, and no second runway at Heathrow, of which we are assured, will not provide the answer.

I have mentioned EU agreement on aviation fuel taxation. The EU research programmes on such matters are accelerating and, as with the auto-oil proposals, the European Parliament is likely to force changes in aircraft design and acceptability before 2010. The United Kingdom should not wait for Europe or the ICAO to agree a regional or world way forward; we have shown leadership in such matters and we should do so again. Voluntary agreements are being reached, industry by industry, to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom, and there are reductions in the climate change levy for industries that do so. The airline industry has an equivalent to a climate change levy in its consumer tax—air passenger duty, which could be significantly reduced, perhaps by 50 to 80 per cent.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

On air passenger duty, does my hon. Friend agree with the chief executive of easyJet, who said that the existing air passenger duty structure is unfair and simplistic? It penalises passengers who take short-haul flights, but fails to levy an appropriate charge on intercontinental flights, which by and large are made by affluent individuals and those on corporate business. Does he think that there is scope for a fairer structure?

Mr. Colman

I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting intervention. Certainly, my speech is about equity and enabling people to fly, but my concern is that easyJet's aircraft should have low or zero emissions. We must recognise that short-haul journeys are often better made on high-speed train links such as Eurostar than on flights. Having said that, I admire the attempt to lower the cost of flying for the people of Europe. In introducing air passenger duty, Nigel Lawson described it as a replacement for tax on air fuel, and we regard it in the same way as climate change levies. As I have said, a significant reduction in air passenger duty 50 per cent. to 80 per cent., say—will be available to airlines that commit to stretching targets for emissions reduction. As the APD reduction could be made in lieu of compliance costs associated with stretching fuel efficiency targets in other ways, the scheme should not distort competition.

The Association of European Airlines has, I am told, secured agreement from its members to an efficiency improvement target of 22.4 per cent. for 1990–2012. Of that figure, 14.1 per cent. resulted from fleet renewal and an improvement in load factor and the remaining 8.3 per cent. is predicated on fleet replacement. I am pleased to say that British Airways has committed to a 30 per cent. improvement on its 1990 fuel efficiency figures by 2010. However, those are assertions; there is no formal check. The Minister should make, if you like, binding agreements, so that UK and, if you like, European regulations can nail down the voluntary arrangements.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam)

Order. Whether I like binding agreements or European regulations has nothing to do with the debate. The hon. Gentleman should remember that, in using the word "you", he is referring to me and no one else.

Mr. Colman

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The airline industry also claims that a further 10 per cent. saving could be made if the Government agree to operational efficiency in air traffic control and air traffic management. I am sure that the matter will arise again in discussions on public-private partnership and National Air Traffic Services. Will the proposals, which would make a start on taking aircraft emissions seriously, be taken up by the Government and discussed at next week's meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation?

I have five key questions for the Government. First, do they support the inclusion of aviation emissions in their national greenhouse gas inventories in time for this year's climate change treaty conference of the parties? Secondly, will they make the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions an explicit objective of the new White Paper on airports? Thirdly, in developing that White Paper, will they introduce explicit demand management measures in respect of airports if there is no way forward for zero-emission aircraft? Fourthly, do they support measures for a Europewide charge on aircraft emissions to help to reduce the contribution of aviation to climate change? Fifthly, will they enter into an agreement—as they have done elsewhere—with the airline industry and use the air passenger duties as an equivalent to the climate change levy to negotiate binding agreements in the UK?

In addition to those questions, I should like to take up the cause of manufacturing industry, which has been much in the news in the past two weeks. Earlier this month, everyone was delighted to hear the announcement of the £500 million Government loan guarantee to BAE Systems to enable it to start work on the wings for the new Airbus A3XX, which was dubbed the "green giant" by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He said that it will use 20 per cent. less fuel per passenger and will be

quieter and cleaner than comparable planes. Clearly, airframe improvements can deliver fuel efficiencies, but the key to lower aircraft emissions is the motor power source—the engines. Where was an announcement about support to Rolls-Royce for the development of a new generation of zero-emission non-fossil-fuel engines—the sort of quantum leap that the RB211, which was supported by the previous Labour Government, represented in the 1970s?

I am told that current technology on hydrogen and fuel cells is not practical at present—hydrogen is bulky to transport and fuel cells are not light enough for air travel. Similar objections were recently made about the feasibility of land-based transport using that technology, but those were overcome. I was disappointed to discover that none of the current foresight panels is working on that. Other programmes are going ahead. The work on "Air Travel— Greener by Design" by the Society of British Aerospace Companies seems to take a more general approach. The foresight link award for the work on fuel control sensors to help reduce aircraft pollution that is being carried out by Cranfield university, the university of Sheffield, Rolls-Royce and Lucas Aerospace sounds promising, and I hope that it will be incorporated in the A3XX. Proper enforcement of the Kyoto protocol should mean more jobs and prosperity for the new technological industries, and new aircraft design is part of that change.

In addition to a response to those points, I hope to hear from my hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry about the good news for manufacturing industry at Rolls-Royce in the midlands and Scotland.

Aircraft emissions are not on the agenda for the subsidiary body for implementation, which is meeting in Bonn on 12 to 16 June, prior to the sixth conference of the parties. Yesterday, I spent two hours ploughing through 44 pages of text on the internet to discover that. I look forward to faster engines in those systems as well. The UK must be proactive—there is still time before June. That proactivity is needed to establish solutions, some of which I have suggested in my speech. The key must be to ensure that everyone on earth who could fly, can. Without new technology, they will not be able to do so, and without control on aircraft emissions, the advent of global warming will inevitably accelerate.

Last month, Michael Zammit Cutajar, the executive secretary-general of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, said at the 10th UN conference on trade and development:

The ultimate objective of the strategy is to halt the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before it becomes dangerous. Efficiency in limiting further emissions of these gases is vital for success. Equity in distributing responsibility for these limitations is vital for political engagements. Visions of the economic opportunities of a climate-friendly future would transform the language of negotiation from "burden sharing" to "win-win". It is this linkage with the economy that relates the climate change scenario to that of globalisation. Climate change is a by-product of two centuries of economic growth, so action to address it must pass through the economy of the 21st century. Greater efficiency and cleaner technologies are needed in the energy, transport and industrial sectors, among others. This can be a driver of technological change, "green jobs" and "green profits". The international response can also generate a new push in favour of the transfer of technology and know-how to developing countries and capacity building. Aircraft building and design is a perfect example of the clean development mechanism—the CDM. The UK leads the world in that, and it could be our gift to the world to solve the problem of aircraft emissions and lead to effective implementation of the Kyoto protocol, which is not happening at present.

11.43 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions(Mr. Chris Mullin)

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) has raised an important issue, which I know is of great interest to him and his constituents, who have many noisy planes flying over them. He asked me several detailed questions.

Mr. Colman

It is not only the problem of aircraft noise that I am concerned about, but that of the pollution and emissions coming from those aeroplanes.

Mr. Mullin

Indeed. Those emissions are the main subject of our discussions today. No doubt we shall discuss noise another day.

My hon. Friend asked me a number of detailed questions. May I gently say to him what I said to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake)—that it is helpful to have advance notice of such questions? I shall do my best to answer them, but if I do so inadequately we shall follow up the matter with correspendence.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting next week will be a working group that the United Kingdom and the United States will chair jointly. The decisions will be made at the ICAO assembly in September and October 2001. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), who is no longer in the Chamber, made a point about air passenger duty, which is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have noted the point and will draw it to the Chancellor's attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney asked a question about the inclusion of international emissions. I am advised that that is a matter for discussion at the conference of the parties, not for the ICAO. The agenda for the working party has not yet been settled, but all the options will be considered. Demand measures are unlikely to be one of the Government's objectives.

The use of air passenger duty to negotiate binding agreements is only one option. The Association of European Airlines efficiency targets are proposals for voluntary agreements, and the ICAO is considering a range of market-based options.

The United Kingdom played a key part in negotiating the Kyoto protocol, in which developed countries agreed to cut their combined emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 per cent. between 2008 and 2012. The European Community agreed a larger reduction of 8 per cent. and that target was subsequently shared out, with the UK agreeing to a 12.5 per cent. cut. We are developing our programme to deliver that target and to meet our domestic goal of a 20 per cent. cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010.

On 9 March, the Government published their draft UK climate change programme. This will form the basis for action to fulfil our obligations. The final UK programme will be prepared by the autumn, and the UK will then be in a position to rafity the Kyoto protocol. Many issues remain to be settled and we are working closely with our European partners and other countries to ensure that the protocol comes into force as soon as possible. In November, the sixth conference of the parties will be held in The Hague and countries will need to reach agreement on a range of outstanding issues.

Aviation is an important issue in relation to the Kyoto protocol and plays an important part in our lives. It is vital for trade and makes a significant contribution to our economy. It is a major growth industry and air traffic is forecast to double in the next 15 years. However, that growth will not be without problems of both noise and emissions. Aviation contributes to climate change with worldwide emissions constituting some 2 per cent. of all man-made carbon dioxide. Aviation also produces other emissions, many of them going directly into the sensitive upper atmosphere. They include oxides of nitrogen—which lead to the formation of ozone—particulates and water vapour, which lead to the formation of contrails. There are uncertainties about their exact effects of climate change, but they could be as great as those of carbon dioxide alone.

Globally, aviation emissions are expected to increase from 115 million tonnes of carbon in 1992 to between 245 and 265 million tonnes in 2015. Of those emissions, international aviation accounts for approximately half. Emissions from domestic aviation are already included in the Kyoto targets and United Kingdom domestic aviation accounts for only about 10 per cent. of the 9 million tonnes of aviation fuel sold annually. The remainder is international. Emissions from international aviation are not included in the targets agreed by Kyoto.

Mr. Colman

My hon. Friend seemed to imply that while international aviation emissions are not within the Kyoto targets, domestic aviation emissions are. Will he confirm that that is so and that they will be included in the final proposals on climate change, because they are not included in the draft document?

Mr. Mullin

I said that emissions from domestic aviation are already included and that emissions from international aviation are not, which also applies to international shipping. To date, there has been no agreement on how or whether to allocate them to individual countries—the subject is very complex. Instead, the Kyoto protocol requires developed countries to limit or reduce emissions by working through the ICAO.

In 1996, the ICAO invited the intergovernmental panel on climate change to prepare a report on the effects of aviation and the steps needed to be taken to address them. The result was the special report on aviation and the global atmosphere published last June. It was the first panel report on a single sector and represents an authoritative and policy-neutral assessment of the science and technology of the effects of aviation on the atmosphere and the measures that have been taken and need to be taken to mitigate them.

The ICAO is also working, through its committee on aviation environmental protection, to develop policies and measures to encourage development of aircraft and engine technology so that it is less polluting. In the United Kingdom, Rolls-Royce and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency are at the forefront of research into improved engine technology. The Department of Trade and Industry is also sponsoring research on how the environmental impact of air travel can be reduced. The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions works closely with my Department on that research.

The ICAO is also considering how market-based options such as an aviation fuel tax, emissions trading or voluntary agreements might be developed. They could provide fiscal incentives to use and develop more efficient aircraft. It is considering how aircraft could be flown on more direct routes and how less fuel might be wasted, for example, in holding stacks of aircraft waiting to land. In Europe, Eurocontrol is also involved. On 28 January this year, European Ministers issued a statement identifying the need to take account of environmental impact in future strategy.

Improved aircraft and engine design is leading to reductions in emissions and improvements are constantly being researched, but it should be recognised that it is unlikely that the industry will ever reach a point at which aircraft emit no noxious gases or water vapour. Even hydrogen would produce water vapour. That does not mean that no improvement can be made and, in the light of our goals under the Kyoto protocol, emissions reduction will remain very much on our agenda.

The committee on aviation environmental protection has been asked to report to the next ICAO assembly, which will be held in September next year, and the United Kingdom is playing a leading role in developing policy options ahead of the assembly.

Action is also being taken in the European Union. The Commission published a communication on air transport and the environment, which suggested a coherent strategy within the EU. In particular, it addressed how the EU could maximise its influence at the ICAO assembly, where the United Kingdom is one of the key players. Ministers will consider their response at the Transport Council on 28 March, but we expect it to be supportive.

The EU published a communication on its policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also published a document on the environmental, economic and legal implications of taxing aviation fuel. It recommends that the EU allows member states to impose taxes on aviation fuel domestically and permits bilateral agreements to tax fuel. However, it notes that for environmental and economic reasons it would not be practicable or desirable for the Community as a whole to introduce taxation targeting only intra-Community services. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands the logic of that. One concern is that fuel would be tankered in by airlines to avoid high taxes, leading to a net increase in fuel emissions.

My hon. Friend raised an important issue that will undoubtedly occupy everyone concerned with the aviation industry for years to come. It is also important in dealing with the survival of the planet and reducing overall levels of pollution. I am grateful to him for raising the subject and I hope that he is reassured that we are at least on the case, even if we do not have all the solutions.

11.56 am

Sitting suspended.