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Airport Expansion: Paris Climate Change Agreement

Transport – in the House of Commons on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Whether he plans to take into account the Paris climate change agreement in future decisions on airport expansion.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Court of Appeal judgment on the airports national policy statement is complex, and we will set out our next steps in due course. This Government remain supportive of airport expansion, but we will permit it only within our environmental obligations.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

From “No ifs, no buts, no third runway”, to engineering a trip to Afghanistan to skip the vote, the last three Prime Ministers have started off very clear on Heathrow expansion and then obfuscation and U-turns have set in. Why do not the Government take the opportunity of the Court of Appeal ruling that expansion is incompatible with our Paris climate accord obligations and make this dead and buried once and for all, and also review the other 21 planned airport expansions?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I have already outlined, the Government are, and remain, supportive of airport expansion where we are able to deliver it within our environmental obligations. I must point out to the hon. Lady that the Court did not conclude that airport expansion is incompatible with climate change. As I have already outlined, we are reviewing this complex judgment and will lay out our next steps soon.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Government were wrong to deny the relevance and application of the Paris agreement. Do the Government now accept that their overriding obligation is one of compliance with our Paris accord commitments in reducing emissions, meaning that their national policy statement on aviation has to be revisited and revised, and that they should be saying no to climate-busting expansion at Heathrow?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I can understand the concerns that many hon. Members may have around the Government’s next steps. That is why we have outlined that it is currently an ongoing legal process. We have said that we will review the judgment, which is complex, and set out our next steps. As I have already outlined, the Court did not judge that the airport expansion is incompatible with climate change. But we will obviously update the House as soon as possible on any future steps that we will be prepared to take.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The Court of Appeal said that it was illegal.

In the midst of a climate crisis, the Chancellor announced the biggest-ever programme of road building—a £27 billion splurge that will increase car use, worsen congestion, and increase climate emissions. In anticipation of legal challenges, as with airport expansion, and before the Government go any further, can they confirm that the roads programme has been subject to rigorous environment impact assessments and complies with our Paris agreement obligations?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The climate emergency concerns us all, and the aviation sector faces a particularly tough challenge to decarbonise, whether or not additional airport capacity is added in the south-east. However, we cannot shirk that challenge, so I am proud that Loganair, based in my constituency, is currently working to provide passenger services using electric planes to help to tackle our climate change targets. In Scotland, these targets include aircraft emissions. Will this Government match that level of transparency and honesty, and include emissions in their targets?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for outlining his particular interest and his understanding of the situation within Scotland. As he will know, Sustainable Aviation has committed to delivering on its net zero target.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

As the Minister has outlined, progress has been made with new engine technology continually setting new standards of efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, and there is huge research and development in the sector right now. Given that background, plus the fact that it may cost up to 10 times more, and that it is one of just two bodies whose regulations are followed the world over, replacing the European Aviation Safety Agency properly may take up to a decade, and recruiting the expertise required will be extremely difficult. Does the Minister not realise that leaving EASA is an act of sheer folly that is putting Brexit politics before passenger safety?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know—I believe he spoke about it last week—that we will potentially see the first electric flight this year. We have invested £300 million in the future flight challenge fund. We are committed to working with everyone across the industry to ensure that we have the technology and the skills and can deliver on our target.