Campaigners warn government could deliver 'fatal blow' to Climate Act by dropping limits on aviation emissions

While welcoming the long delayed Clean Growth Strategy as a step towards urgently-needed climate action, campaigners today raised concerns about the government's apparent plan to quietly abandon limits on aviation emissions.

International aviation is not included in the UK Climate Change Act, but is set to represent an increasing fraction of UK emissions as other sectors reduce their share. To ensure that the purpose of the Act - to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050 - can be achieved in a meaningful way, the Committee on Climate Change sets carbon budgets for the rest of the economy based on a 'planning assumption' for aviation emissions.

In November 2016 the Committee on Climate Change wrote to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, responsible for the government's climate change policy, to express concern that the government's business case for approving a new runway at Heathrow depended on a level of aviation expansion which would breach these limits.

The government was asked in this letter to resolve this conflict - either by re-checking the business case for a third runway using an assumption that climate limits would not be breached, or alternatively to set out in the Clean Growth Strategy (formerly called the Emissions Reductions Plan) how other sectors could make deeper cuts to allow for aviation growth.

In the year since this request, neither of these have been carried out. There is currently a 'call for evidence' consultation on a future aviation strategy, but the aviation strategy itself is not due until at least late 2018. There will be six consultations relating to the strategy. However, the only one of these related to climate change, "Support growth while tackling environmental impacts" will not take place until the second half of 2018.

Before this, in early 2018, MPs will be asked to take a final vote on a new runway at Heathrow airport, which would add 700 flights a day to the UK's aviation carbon footprint. They will therefore have to do this without sight of any strategy for how Heathrow can be expanded and regional airports also allowed to grow, without the UK's climate targets being abandoned.

Claire James, Campaign against Climate Change, said, "To achieve the cuts in emissions we need to make our Climate Change Act a reality, and avoid catastrophic climate change as agreed in the Paris climate deal, all sectors need to play their part. If the government plans to quietly exempt aviation from limits on emissions, and treat it as a special case, it will deal a fatal blow to the Climate Change Act, undermining genuine progress elsewhere."


Notes for editors

1. Contact Claire James,, 020 7833 9311 / 07939 654914

2. Letter from CCC to Greg Clark 22/11/16

3. Aviation strategy consultation: (ends Friday 13 October)

4. Clean Growth Strategy:

5. A footnote in the Clean Growth Strategy states: "Although emissions from international aviation and shipping are not currently included in the UK’s targets under the Climate Change Act, our carbon budgets put the UK on a trajectory consistent with a 2050 target that includes these emissions. The Government has not reached a final view on the appropriate level of aviation emissions in 2050."

6. More detail on the problem with aviation emissions here: