The two Ds and their killer plan
Jul 1, 2015
Bishop Hill in Climate: Parliament, Deben, Greens

Many of the metropolitan chatterati are getting their knickers in a twist this morning over the expansion of London airport capacity. Deep-green Tory MP Zac Goldsmith is threatening to resign his seat in protest over the official Airports Commission decision to go with a third runway at Heathrow.

While the commission has been working away, its chairman Howard Davies has engaged in some interesting correspondence with Lord Deben. I was particularly struck by this letter from Lord D in which he specifies the level of carbon emissions that the aviation industry will be permitted to make:

For this assessment you should continue to work on the basis that demand growth is limited to around 60% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels...

...going on to suggest that this should be put in place alongside "fuel and operational efficiency improvements [and] use of sustainable biofuels".

This is odd, because the CCC itself pointed out back in 2009 that there were a few issues with biofuels, principally that they used up agricultural land that is actually required to feed people, although Lord D and his team managed to skirt round the distasteful implications, namely mass hunger. It is fair to say that prefixing the word "sustainable" does not change this one iota. We should also mention that Lord D also neglected to point out that biofuels actually generate more carbon emissions than they save, something that was certainly recognised at the time and which has been confirmed since.

With all this oversight, it is perhaps possible to forgive Howard Davies for what has ended up in his plans:

For the Gatwick option, the changes required are modest, an increase in the carbon price (to around £330 per tonne in 2050) and a level of biofuels usage below the GGG baseline are sufficient to constrain emissions to 37.5MtG02. For the two Heathrow schemes, a more significant package of measures would be needed, for example including the same carbon price and significantly higher biofuels usage, plus a range of operational efficiency improvements.

In passing, we should mention that £330/t is way beyond any reasonable stab at the cost of global warming. This paper cites a figure of £43 as the mean of peer-reviewed estimates. But more importantly "significantly higher" biofuels use could be a killer policy, quite literally.

The joys of the planned economy eh?

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