Mr. Kevin Lister
Monday 2nd April 2007
Re: Airport Expansions & Iron Sulphate Seeding of Oceans
Thank you for your briefings on the history of cigarette labelling laws and the relationship between air travel and global warming. I apologize for the delay in responding. The last few weeks have been particularly busy and I felt that your propositions merited careful consideration. While I, in principle agree with most of them, I hold some different views on how they should be executed. I am eternally grateful to Mateusz Trybowski who is currently working with me and who is an intern from Canada for going through this work in detail given his strong interest in these matters.
As you know, I have been a long-time advocate for environmental issues. Over the last parliamentary session I have lobbied against GM regulations that will allow for the routine contamination of green spaces by super-weeds, called for increased investment into public transit and rallied for a national ban on illegal wood products. I have also worked to preserve the current funding and ecological integrity of the Stroudwater Canal. Its future is still pending review following another inquiry by the DEFRA Select Committee. My most recent initiative has been a parliamentary campaign to raise awareness about and enhance the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD). This mechanism was created to render industries responsible for environmental damages caused by genetic contamination and the discharge of air and water-borne pollutants. In its current form, the ELD only covers a small fraction of the country’s special sites of scientific interest (SSSI) and Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. It also contains loopholes which, if enacted, will allow corporations to evade responsibility for environmentally destructive activities. I have sponsored two Early Day Motions on and rallied a significant number of MPs behind propositions to enhance the directive. I will keep you updated on its progress.
My principle preoccupation in the upcoming months will be the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government’s Climate Change Draft Bill. As I am a member of the DEFRA Select Committee which will be reviewing its proposals, I feel it will be the most effective mechanism through which to advance your ideas. Coming on the back of our year-long study of Climate Change: the Citizens’ Agenda, I feel that debate on this bill will accord stakeholders an unparalleled opportunity to influence the government’s position on and response to global warming. I look forward look forward to collaborating with interested parties in the Stroud area on a response to the Government’s propositions and would be happy to keep you updated on committee debates as they develop.
I have thought long and hard about our previous discussion and the viability of your proposals. We are in complete agreement over the importance of and need for immediate action against climate change. As a nation that has historically benefited from the cases of global warming, the UK has a moral responsibility to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and encourage other countries to take their Kyoto commitments seriously. Given its status as only one of two EU states on their way to actually achieving its Kyoto targets, we have already set a good example. It is imperative, however, that we continue to lead internationally on this issue and lobby the world’s economic power-houses to go above and beyond their current environmental management practices.
I understand your sentiments towards Kyoto and agree that we must go much further. We will never have an opportunity to pursue the post-Kyoto strategies that are currently being debated at the G8 and EU, if we do not first achieve its current objectives. Though imperfect, the Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding international agreement of its kind. We must work within its framework and emphasize the importance of attaining its targets.
We are all responsible for rising carbon emissions and will only prevail over climate change if we combine our efforts. Comprehensive and collaborative initiatives at every level of government and amongst all sectors of society will be necessary if we are to achieve substantive results. This is what I meant when we spoke about coalitions of the willing and the inherent flexibility of the words like community.
Issues Relating to your Arguments against Airport Expansions
A) Airport Expansions & Safety Concerns
Aviation is currently the fastest growing source of carbon emissions in the UK. I agree that, to effectively combat climate change, we need to curb this industry’s GHG emissions. I do not, however, just believe that imposing a moratorium upon further airport expansions is the solution to this problem.
Projected rates of passenger growth are certainly disconcerting. Efforts must be taken to: raise awareness about the damaging effects of air travel on the environment and promote the use of more ecologically-responsible modes of transportation. I cannot endorse anything which would endanger the safety of air passengers, however but believe the way to stop airport expansion is to cut our dependence on flying everywhere off at source. There should initially be a voluntary personal moratorium apart from whence this is absolutely unavoidable on flying to be re-enforced by the use of compulsion when we get the Bill through and international agreements are sought.
B) Air Quality and Noise Pollution Near Heathrow
In his letter to the Transport Minister, your son expressed concerns about the living standards of citizens residing near Heathrow. As was indicated in the Future of Air Transport White Paper, governmental support for the construction of a new runway at this airport is contingent upon its ability to meet noise and air quality standards. The Government will be holding a public consultation on the potential consequences of further expansions at Heathrow later this year.
Though unable to provide me with a definite date, I have learned from a representative at DEFRA that assessments are currently underway and that this consultation should take place in the next few months. I would urge your son to express his concerns through that mechanism. In the meantime, I would be happy to pass on his concerns to John McDonnell – the area’s local MP. I am currently working with John to fight some of the worst excesses of the current environmental degradation that is occurring in Heathrow’s surrounding areas. I have already expressed my opposition to the opening of a fifth terminal and construction of a third runway at this airport.
C) Raising Awareness and Promoting Alternative Forms of Transportation
Rising incomes spurred by rapid economic growth have allowed UK citizens to use air transportation more frequently. The Government’s most recent Attitudes to Air Travel survey found that nearly half of all adults in the UK have flown once in the last year. Most respondents also exhibited a strong aspiration to fly again in the future.
An increased propensity amongst citizens of all economic backgrounds to fly over short distances can be attributed to the growing affordability of air travel. Rising incomes, lower air fares, a greater choice of airline companies, a wider range of services from regional airports and the fact that aircraft fuel continues to be obscenely under-taxed, have rendered this mode of transport a viable option for individuals with low-to-medium incomes.
I am fundamentally opposed to the use of aircrafts for short-haul travel. We must persuade people to revert to train use for all but essential journeys. This could be done through:
- A further hike to the Air Passenger Duty
- Increased subsidization of public transit systems to render sustainable transportation more affordable and attractive.
- The integration of “eco-lessons” into school curricula
- Advertising campaigns that focus upon the environmental damage which is produced by air travel.
Misleading Advertisements by Discount Airline Companies
Ryanair and EasyJet’s campaign against the APD has been disgraceful. Their recently-released attack ads have featured misleading statistics and numerous unsubstantiated claims. While different evaluative standards could produce varying measures of the UK airline industry’s carbon emissions, there is a general consensus that it is responsible for significantly more than 2% of the country’s overall output. I have requested that that APA look into the legality of these advertisements to support your earlier work and think this will feature very largely at the time of the debate around the Draft Bill.
Integrating the Aviation Industry into the ETS Trading System
The government’s proposal for integrating aviation into the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has certain merits. As was indicated in the Stern Report, the most efficient and cost-effective way of ensuring that corporations play their part in tackling climate change is to put a price upon carbon consuming activities.
Although domestic aviation emissions have been figured into the Government’s plans for reducing GHG outputs, international emissions remain unaccounted for. Since no one country will take responsibility for international aviation emissions, an integration of the aviation industry into carbon trading systems might be a way of moving forward
On the other hand, I do not believe that market inspired measures will be sufficient to avoid a climate-change catastrophe in the near future. Like Alan Simpson MP, who has written extensively on this issue, I have some fundamental doubts on whether ETS can work. The basic problem is that secondary markets can be undermined by the devaluation of their original purpose and the escape of monies from them to be used for other purposes. ETS is likely to be so complex that very few people will understand it. If there is to be any hope for the success of this program working, transactions will have to be made in a transparent and easy comprehensible manner.
Private Member’s Bill Calling for the Labelling of Airplane Tickets
Your proposal for a Private Member’s Bill is certainly interesting and advances some compelling parallels between the aviation and tobacco industries. I would be interested in circulating your ideas around the EFRA and sister Committees to get a sense of whether it could attract cross-party support. I should emphasize, however, that if we aim to influence government legislation, an informal approach will be far more effective than the introduction of a private member’s bill.
Procedural restraints prevent me from initiating a private member’s bill on ticket labelling at any period in the near future. As you might be aware, the time that is set aside by the House of Commons for the consideration of Private Members' Bills is limited by Standing Order 13. Given that there is enormous pressure for the use of this time, a lottery mechanism has been incepted which gives priority to twenty, randomly selected bills. They are chosen at the beginning of every parliamentary session. Unfortunately, I have not been chosen to introduce one this session.
The Government is currently accepting submissions for a consultation on its Climate Change Bill White Paper. This is the route through which I plan to advance your proposition for the labelling of airplane tickets. I would encourage you to participate in, and advanced your concerns through this process as well.
Developments at Staverton Airport
I am, in principle, opposed to further expansions at Staverton Airport. There are several reasons for this:
- Staverton’s expansion plans are not essential to safety management. Rather, they are business-oriented propositions that seek to transform the airport into a major regional carrier. Planned runway expansions will enable the airport to accommodate large passenger aircrafts which will have detrimental effects on its surrounding environment.
- Increased air traffic will diminish the living standards of those residing near the airport.
- Sites marked for runway expansions fall within a greenbelt
- As Phillip Booth has rightly pointed out, extended runways will enable the airport to provide a greater number of short-services (i.e. flights to London). These are the most carbon intensive of all flights.
Further Increases to the APD:
For reasons described above, I supported the government’s decision to double the Air Passenger Duty, and would endorse its further increase in the future. I do not, however, believe that such disincentives will be sufficient for reducing flight demands in the UK. In my personal opinion the most effective manner of achieving this objective would be to introduce direct controls on the numbers and types of flights that could be taken every year, through the allocation of individual carbon allowances.
Iron Sulphate Seeding of Oceans:
After reading your proposal, I was prompted to ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the Government’s stance on iron sulphate seeding. I have attached a transcript of his answer to the back of this letter.
I must admit that, from a layperson’s perspective, the plausibility of your proposal is questionable:
- No one state owns the ocean. I fear that jurisdictional issues would prevent the UK from undertaking a unilateral iron sulphate seeding program, as you suggest it should.
- The articles which you forwarded indicate that research on iron sulphate seeding remains inconclusive. In fact, featured experts consistently emphasized that such an experiment might actually further harm our oceans. As my exchange with the Secretary of State for the Environment demonstrates, the Government also holds such reservations.
Ultimately, I do not hold the necessary qualifications to appraise your proposal. Though he appears to have already made a decision on this issue, I would be more than happy to pass on any letter that you send on iron sulphate seeding to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
DEFRA is currently holding a consultation on its Marine Bill White Paper. As it is far easier to amend legislative proposals before they become law, I would recommend that you make your views known through a submission to this consultation and I am happy to help you do this.
Thank you once again for taking the time to share these proposals with me. If you should have any more questions or comments, please do not hesitate to write again.
MP for the Stroud Constituency
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what research he has (a) commissioned and (b) supported into the effect of introducing iron sulphate into the ocean to increase phytoplankton activity and absorb quantities of carbon dioxide. 
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Ian Pearson: The Department has not commissioned, nor supported any research on the effect of introducing iron sulphate in the ocean to increase phytoplankton activity and absorb quantities of carbon dioxide.
The Department recognises that, although there may be value in investigating some engineering solutions to combat climate change, there are concerns about their ancillary effects on the environment, the practicalities and the costs of such solutions. The Department’s key priority remains finding ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to a level that will prevent dangerous climate change, as well as the need for national and international action.