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UK Air Transport Policy ‘Based on disputed evidence, and could undermine climate policy decisions’

20 May 2008

Sustainable Development Commission and ippr call for special commission to establish true benefits and impacts of aviation

Disputed data underpinning the government's air transport policy is making it impossible to weigh up the true benefits and impacts of aviation, and should be updated by a special commission, according to a report published today (Wednesday 21 May) by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).

Breaking the holding pattern - A new approach to aviation policy making in the UK finds that available data on the benefits and impacts of aviation is widely disputed, and inadequate for reliable decision making on the future of UK air travel. It also warns that decisions about the future of air transport must not pre-empt crucial UK and international policy decisions addressing aviation's climate impacts.

Drawing on a twelve-month process of dialogue, the report argues that there is widespread controversy over key data on air travel in the UK, including the benefits to the UK economy, its contribution to climate change, noise and air pollution, and the potential for technology to reduce aviation's environmental impacts. It concludes that the high levels of conflict around the effects of aviation are bad for government, the industry, and citizens, creating rising distrust and undermining policy decisions.

The SDC and ippr recommend that the government should:
• Convene a special commission to compile an updated evidence base on the economic, social and environmental benefits and costs of UK aviation, seeking maximum consensus amongst stakeholders
• Consult the public and key stakeholders on the future of air travel in the UK, setting out policy options to stimulate a national debate
• Incorporate the findings and recommendations of the special commission into the Air Transport White Paper.

They also advise that proposed expansion at Heathrow should be put on hold until the Air Transport White Paper has been reviewed. The review will also have implications for decisions on expansion at other UK airports, including Stansted.

Hugh Raven, commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said:
"The SDC and ippr held meetings with the Government, the aviation industry, academics, NGOs and citizens' groups over a period of a year. While we expected to find areas of conflict, we were unprepared for the level of fundamental disagreement over the data underpinning the Government's whole aviation strategy.

"Until some basic questions are answered, the UK cannot be in a position to make major decisions about the future of air travel. The Government must live up to its commitment to listening to voters' concerns, and ensure we make the best possible decisions for everyone involved."

Simon Retallack, Associate Director of ippr, said
"Good policy-making needs to be based on evidence that is widely agreed to be sound, which is not the case when it comes to aviation policy. Before any major new decisions are taken on airports, it is vital that the evidence is looked at again through an independent and widely supported process. Establishing a special commission to do that provides the Government with the best way forward."

Areas of disagreement between government departments, the aviation industry, academics, NGOs and citizens' groups include:
Lack of agreed measures for assessing the benefits and impacts of aviation
Although widely credited with bringing economic benefits through trade and tourism, controversy remains over:
- The benefits of inbound tourism versus the losses from outbound domestic tourism, and the impact of tourism on developing countries
- Job and wealth creation from aviation; actual levels of inward investment, and the opportunity cost to other modes of transport
- The quantifiable impact of aviation on health and well-being, particularly from noise and local air pollution

Lack of established data on the climate impacts of aviation, and lack of clarity over the role of technology
Significant scientific uncertainties remain over:
- The contribution of aviation contrails to climate change
- The potential for technology to make significant reductions to aviation's climate impacts; how soon improvements can be made, and whether other measures must be taken in the interim

A lack of policy coherence across government
Clashing government priorities across different departments and agencies - including promoting economic growth, meeting future travel needs, protecting the environment, addressing climate change, and ensuring the health and well-being of communities - are contributing to a lack of coherence across government.

The report also warns that decisions about UK aviation policy must not pre-empt and undermine crucial UK and international policies addressing aviation's climate impacts, including:
• The UK Climate Change Bill
• The UK Aviation Duty Consultation
• European Union Emissions Trading Scheme
• The post-2012 Bali Roadmap

» Download Breaking the holding pattern - A new approach to aviation policy making in the UK

- ENDS -
Notes to Editors

1. For more information and interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 / 07825 106 803, or email rhian.thomas@sd-commission.gsi.gov.uk or Gill Amas on 020 7339 0007 / 07753 719289 or m.officer@ippr.org
2. The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent advisory body on sustainability issues. Made up of 18 Commissioners and chaired by Jonathon Porritt, it reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.
3. The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) is the UK's leading progressive think tank, producing cutting-edge research and innovative policy ideas for a just, democratic and sustainable world. Since 1988, it has been at the forefront of progressive debate and policymaking in the UK
4. Breaking the holding pattern: a new approach to aviation policymaking in the UK is co-authored by SDC and ippr, with the approval of all SDC Commissioners
5. In 2007 and early 2008, to inform its advice to government, the SDC, with ippr, ran a stakeholder assessment on aviation. This unlocked a range of views, from businesses, industry representatives, governments, academia, citizens' groups and NGOs. However the conclusions and recommendations in the report published today, though informed by the Stakeholder Assessment, represent the opinion of SDC and IPPR alone.
6. SDC and ippr recommend that the Special Commission proposed in their report be jointly commissioned by a mixed stakeholder steering group from government, business, NGOs and citizens' groups and be convened by a trusted and independent chair. It should begin work in the autumn of 2008 and conclude to fit the proposed timetable of the Air Transport White Paper progress report and National Policy Statement on aviation.

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