Blair joins row over flight emissions

Tony Blair joined the escalating row over who should shoulder the responsibility for aviation emissions when he dismissed calls to sacrifice long-haul holidays as "impractical."

The debate has seen ever sharper arguments exchanged between Government, the aviation industry and green groups since environment minister Ian Pearson hit out at airlines on Friday for trying to dodge responsibility for their climate change impact.

The EU wants to include aviation in its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) but airlines have variously resisted the proposals or tried to water them down by only including internal EU flights, which account for around a fifth of the EU’s total aviation emissions.

Under current EU proposals the scheme would eventually cover all flights departing from the EU and cut the expected growth in emissions by 46%. British Airways are pushing for a deal that only covers intra-EU flights while American airlines have threatened to take the EU to court if it includes cross-Atlantic flights in the ETS, prompting Ian Pearson to call their attitude “completely irresponsible.” The European commission says 46% of the expected growth in teh EU’s aviation emissions would be saved if its plan was implemented in full.

But Pearson’s strongest criticism was reserved for budget carrier Ryanair, whose boss Michael O’Leary opposes including flights in the ETS which he has called “just another tax on passengers.”

Ian Pearson called his attitude “just completely off the wall.”

“When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism. O’Leary just seems to take pride in refusing to recognise that climate change is a genuine problem,” he told the Guardian in an interview.

Michael O’Leary hit back by calling Pearson “foolish and ill-informed” and arguing that Ryanair is doing more than the Government to tackle climate change having invested over $10bn in a fleet of fuel-efficient planes.

Improved fuel efficiency was also advocated by Tony Blair, who pointed to the techno-fix as a better strategy than asking people to fly less in an interview with Sky News. He warned against “putting people off the green agenda by saying you must not have a good time anymore,” and said it was “like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.”

“I think that what we need to do is to look at how you make air travel more energy efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less,” he said.

Greenpeace campaigner Emily Armistead retorted by saying: “Tony Blair is crossing his fingers and hoping someone will invent aeroplanes that don’t cause climate change.

“But that’s like holding out for cigarettes that don’t cause cancer. Hoping for the best isn’t a policy, it’s a delusion.”

Environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are campaigning for international flights to be included in the ETS. FoE calls for an end to the “multi-billion pound breaks” the sector is receiving and says people should replace short-haul flights with train journeys.

“Four-fifths of all UK trips abroad are within Europe. Many of these destinations could easily be reached by rail. More must be done to encourage people to abandon the plane and take the train,” said FoE’s Richard Dyer.

Goska Romanowicz

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