Air traffic growth will trigger climate change

If not curbed, air traffic will become a major contributor to climate change, warns a new report. The government must invest more in rail transport.

The report launched by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution expresses concerns about the global impacts of rapid growth in air travel. Government plans for airport expansion are not the best way forward, says RCEP, where cleaner forms of transport should be actively encouraged.

“Emissions from aircraft are likely to be a major contributor to global warming if the present increase in air traffic continues unabated,” warns RCEP’s chairman, Sir Tom Blundell. The government is failing to recognise the impacts of air transport, says Blundell, nor is it working to discourage short-haul passenger flights, such as UK and European journeys, that pollute disproportionately compared to rail journeys made over similar distances.

A shift away from the use of short-distance air journeys could reap considerable environmental benefits as well as relieving pressure on major airports, continues Blundell. But lack of investment in the UK’s rail infrastructure means rail transport cannot currently compete with air travel.

The report recognises efforts to improve airplane technology and bring in alternative fuels, but warns that the expected increase in demand for air travel will easily outstrip technological developments for decades to come.

Air freight is also predicted to grow, but should be restricted to high value and perishable goods, says the Commission, where carbon dioxide emissions and fuel use are 20 to 200 times higher for air than for rail transport.

The Commission is also disappointed that international aviation emissions were left out of the Kyoto Protocol and recommends they be included in future emissions trading schemes. In the meantime, charging air travellers to cover the environmental costs of flying could generate revenue for other modes of transport. The report recommends imposing climate protection charges for take-off and landing and restricting take-off slots.

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