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Leading environmental organisations are challenging the Airport Commission's claim that it is possible to build a new runway and still meet the Government's climate change targets.

Two new reports released today by the RSPB, WWF and Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) say plans to expand airport capacity are 'based on a wing and a prayer' and 'not rooted in the real world'.

They also argue that building a new runway in the South East would worsen the North/South divide as growth at the regional airports would need to be constrained in order to ensure CO2 emissions from aviation fall to their 2005 levels by 2050 [1].

If aviation emissions were allowed to soar it would impose costs on the rest of the economy rising to between £1 billion and £8.4 billion per year or more by 2050 as non-aviation sectors would need to make even deeper emissions cuts.

Aviation, climate change and sharing the load, from the RSPB [2], says that the Commission's recommendation that we can have one new runway and still be compliant with the UK Climate Change Act assumes that aviation emissions will be constrained by regulatory measures.

But the report has found that the regulatory regime is still aspirational - or is so weak as to be ineffective. It argues We are therefore basing our decision to build a new runway on a world as we would like it to be - rather than as it currently exists."

The report concludes that, in order to comply with the Climate Change Act, the only options are to manage future demand by increasing the cost of carbon which would see fares soar to unrealistically high levels or constrain capacity at airports by ruling out any new runways.

The second report, Implications of South East expansion for regional airports from the Aviation Environment Federation, commissioned by WWF-UK [3], shows it is impossible to build an additional runway in the South East and keep aviation emissions consistent with meeting UK climate targets, without cutting airport capacity elsewhere.

In practice, this could mean that many regional airports would need either to be closed or limited to operating fewer flights than today's levels. This would conflict with both government and commercial forecasts, which anticipate at least 200% growth by 2050, and also exacerbate the North/South divide.

RSPB's economist Adam Dutton and author of their report, said: "The rest of the economy will be heavily penalised if emissions from aviation are not constrained. We estimate the cost could rise to as much as £8 billion per year and maybe more. When the rest of society is already being asked to decarbonise by at least 80% this is neither fair nor efficient."

Cait Hewitt, the deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation who wrote their report, said: "The Airports Commission and future governments have a choice to make: either allow aviation expansion in the South East and heavily constrain regional airports or let regional airports grow within the capacity they already have but don't build any new runways. But climate change limits mean that you can't do both."

Jean Leston, head of transport at WWF-UK, said: "Thinking that you can build a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick while still keeping to UK climate targets is being over-optimistic and using assumptions that are based on a wing and a prayer, not on the real world. When it comes to airport expansion, climate change isn't 'dealt with' as an issue."


Notes to editors:

1. The Climate Change Act ensures that the UK remains on track to deliver at least an 80% emissions cut by 2050 based on our 1990 levels. The Act, which received such wide and cross-party political support when it was passed in 2008 that only 5 MPs voted against it, legislates that by 2050 total UK emissions may not exceed 160 Million tonnes of CO2, and requires aviation emissions to be taken into account. The Committee on Climate Change, which oversees delivery of the Act, has recommended that aviation should be allowed to take up around 25% of total UK emissions by 2050 (up from around 5% today). But even so, the Committee has said, aviation demand will need to be controlled to prevent it growing to the high levels currently forecast.

2. Aviation, climate change and sharing the load by the RSPB is available on request from RSPB

3. Implications of South East expansion for regional airports by the AEF and WWF is available here:

4. The two new reports will be launched on Tuesday 15th July, at 3pm in Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons at a meeting chaired by Joan Walley MP, the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.

For more information:

Cait Hewitt, Aviation Environment Federation, Tel: 0207 248 2223, email:

George Smeeton, WWF-UK, Tel: 01483 412 388, mob: 07917 052 948, email:

Rose Dickinson, RSPB, Tel: 02078081251, mob: 07525992162, email: