Environment Minister Elliot Morley launched the dual plea on Monday, calling on travellers to consider the implications of their choice of transport and resort, while unveiling plans to offset the carbon emissions arising from official governmental flights and a tool to help Whitehall tot up the carbon cost of different travel options.

“It’s a new measure we’ve just introduced to look at sustainable travel within Government,” Mr Morley told edie.

“We are giving civil servants information on their different travel options they have in relation to work so they can make informed choices on the route they can take and type of transport, particularly if it’s car, air, bus or rail.”

He said the scheme only covered Whitehall for the time being but there were plans to extend it to Government agencies.

Mr Morley also used the launch to give the Government’s seal of approval to a scheme which allows travel agents to team up with charity The Travel Foundation to ask tourists to pay a small premium to offset any environmental damage their trip might cause.

“Carbon offset makes a huge difference to the communities where the money is spent,” said the minister.

“It goes into a range of projects especially in developing countries where people are keen to have energy and in many cases don’t have access to it.

“Projects can provide energy from renewables, for example, rather than polluting sources like coal.”

Both the tourists and the industry itself were waking up to the importance of environmentally sensitive holidaymaking, he said.

“It’s not for me to determine people’s travel choices,” said Mr Morley.

“But what I would say is there are lots of nice places to visit in the UK and when travelling in Europe it’s possible to travel by rail rather than air – the journey can be part of the holiday.

“It might not always be possible but there are different choices and options and I think we should consider them more.”

“In the past, tourists have not fully recognised the environmental damage they can cause, particularly when travelling abroad, but by donating to the Travel Foundation and also by offsetting their flights they can return something to the environment.

“They ought to look very carefully at the company they are choosing as a lot of companies look closely at the quality of the package they offer, including their environmental impact.

“This varies from full-blown eco-tourism to adopting measures like offering to offset the carbon through the Travel Foundation scheme, which is a modest cost to travellers but makes an enormous difference.”

A spokesman for the foundation told edie the scheme built on past work and allowed holidaymakers using high street travel agents such as First Choice Holidays, Thomas Cook or Sunvil to make a small donation to the charity to soften the impacts of their trip.

“They’re asked if they’d like to donate 40p to us and most people are happy to pay it,” he said.

“While it might not sound much, all these small amounts add up and are our main source of funding.”

Although carbon offsetting is important, the foundation looks at a wide range of environmental issues related to tourism, including the use of water resources and waste management

“It’s not just about the carbon reduction programme, it’s about poverty reduction and making sure as much of the tourist money as possible goes to the local communities and helping the environment,” he said.

“It’s important not to focus on the purely negative effects of tourism, many communities rely on it as their main source of income, so we want to maximize the positive impact holidaymakers can have while minimising the negative.

“We have to decide what the most important things to do are and spend the money where it can have the most effect.”

When it came to taking further measures on the prickly issue of the rapidly rising rate of leisure flights to and from UK airports and associated emissions, Mr Morley accepted there was a problem but claimed there was no quick fix.

“Our preferred option for aviation is to include it in the EU trading scheme which will set a cap and air companies will have to have carbon allowances to operate in the EU.

“But even though there is agreement on this it will take some time to get up and running so we don’t rule out the possibility of interim fiscal measures.”

Those fiscal measures are unlikely to include tax on aviation fuel, which unlike other fuels is currently exempt from duty, in part due to the reluctance of other economic powers such as the USA to see the aviation industry lose its advantaged status.

“Aviation fuel is problematic because it’s covered by an international agreement, the Chicago Agreement, which makes it difficult to act unilaterally,” he said.

“However that doesn’t mean there aren’t measures we can take within the UK, or preferably with the EU – there has been discussion on [taxing fuel] but no decision as yet.”

Sam Bond

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