A new UK government report has set out a number of options for reducing the carbon footprint of aviation, including not building any new runways anywhere in the UK between now and 2050.
The report coincides with the release by the UK Department for Transport of a new aviation forecast, which reduces by about a quarter the number of passengers expected to pass through UK airports by 2030, compared to an earlier forecast from 2009.
The DfT now predicts that 335 million passengers a year will use UK airports by 2030, down from the 455 million passengers anticipated two years ago.
Numbers have been adjusted downward to take into account, among other factors, the current UK government's decision to rule out new runways at London's Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.
However, the DfT said its latest proposals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from aviation over the next 40 years are based on "existing runway capacity, and an associated increase in terminal capacity (and other infrastructure improvements) to make maximum use of the existing runway capacity" out to 2050.
Cait Hewitt, deputy executive director at the Aviation Environment Federation, has welcomed the fact that the government "is focusing on how to meet environmental targets within existing airport infrastructure". However, the AEF added that "for UK aviation to play a fair part in tackling climate change, it needs to be subject to a clear emissions target".
The government aims to adopt a sustainable framework for UK aviation by March 2013. Its latest report outlines additional measures it is examining to enable CO2 emissions from UK aviation to be reduced to 2005 levels or below by 2050.
"I believe that to present the challenge we face as one of deciding between economic growth and reducing carbon emissions is a false choice," said UK secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond in the report. "This government is anti-carbon, not anti-aviation, and our goal is to find ways to meet our carbon reduction targets while supporting economic recovery."
Domestic and international aviation emissions amount to 6% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, representing 21% of the UK transport sector's GHG emissions, according to the report. However, this is likely to increase as other sectors decarbonise. "The government is therefore determined to address the sector's carbon footprint and make aviation a core part of its vision for a greener transport system."
The government plans to publish an analysis on the best use of biofuel in the transport sector later this year. It also expects demand for domestic and short-haul European air travel to be met by high-speed rail in the longer term.
Another factor under consideration is the promotion of behavioural changes among the UK public to try and reduce the amount of air travel for leisure purposes. "However, it is acknowledged that there is significant uncertainty around the impact that improved information would actually have on people's behaviour," said the report.
The DfT is inviting responses from stakeholders to its proposals.