Government told that airport expansion would not jeopardise carbon reduction targets for UK aviation

In a surprise ruling, the government's independent advisers on climate change have told it that building a third runway at Heathrow would not jeopardise carbon emission reduction targets.

Environmentalists had expected that the Committee on Climate Change's new report would support their case instead. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are both opposed to government-backed plans to expand Heathrow.

The committee's report, out today, assesses the options for cutting UK aviation emissions back to 2005 levels by 2050, the target adopted by the government earlier this year.

Planes at Heathrow
A third runway could increase passenger numbers by 70 million people a year

It concludes that the number of passengers using British airports could increase by 60% – an extra 138 million people – by 2050 without the emissions target being breached.

A third runway at Heathrow is predicted by the government to increase passenger numbers by between 24 million and 70 million people by 2030.

The report, titled Meeting the UK Aviation Target, is based on assumptions including more fuel-efficient aircraft, the development of a high-speed rail network, and a rise in the cost of flying.

However, it says that constraining aviation growth to 60%, as the government plans, will require measures such as higher taxes to constrain demand, which would otherwise double to 695 million passengers a year.