UK aviation policy will wipe out climate change effort – report

Growing aircraft emissions will prevent Britain from reaching its greenhouse gas targets unless Government takes action to control demand, Oxford academics said in a report published this week.

By 2050 aviation will be contributing up to two-thirds of the Government’s total carbon dioxide emission target if demand continues to grow uncontrolled, even taking technological and air traffic management improvements into account – the researchers calculate.

Although aviation still only accounts for about 5.5% of the UK’s total emissions, it is the fastest growing greenhouse gas source – and the international nature of the industry makes it one of the most elusive to control. Britain could make a significant difference to global emissions as a key player in the international airline industry, with a fifth of all international passengers on flights that pass through the UK.

The Government’s current policy fully supports airport expansion on a scale that would see passenger movements doubling by 2030, from an annual 200m in 2003 up to 470m.

Overall, policy on aviation ‘flies in the face’ of climate change policy, said the authors of the study, commissioned by the Government-funded UK Energy Research Centre.

Dr Brenda Boardman of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, who led the research, said: “The Government has to confront the contradictions in its policies.

“Unless the rate of growth in flights is curbed, the UK cannot fulfil its commitments on climate change. If government wants to be confident about achieving its targets, it has to undertake demand management. Relying on technological fixes alone is totally unrealistic,” she said.

The Government continues to put forward the idea of including aviation in the European ETS as the main solution to growing aircraft emissions. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is also the solution advanced by the airline lobby, which vehemently opposes raising air passenger duty.

Conversely, the authors of the “Predict and Decide” report advocate higher taxes as the preferred solution, which they said would be quicker and easier to implement than emissions trading for aircraft.

British Air Transport Association (BATA) said it supported the inclusion of airlines in the EU ETS, adding that “most people have concerns about climate change but want to keep flying and do not see taxation as a solution.”

Roger Wiltshire, BATA secretary general said that Britain needs the infrastructure to support the growth in demand.

Budget carrier Easyjet dismissed national taxes as ineffective and ‘discriminating’: “Taxation is a blunt instrument that will only put more money into the pockets of Governments, whilst discriminating against the poorest in society, who until recently were priced out of the sky,” it said in response to the University of Oxford report.

But the report disputed the claim that cheap flights make foreign travel more accessible to lower social classes. Flight decks continue to be dominated by the three highest socio-economic classes, the researchers found. They said that most of the recent growth in passenger numbers is not down to more people flying, but the same people – mainly from the better-off sections of society – flying more often.

“There is little evidence that the less well-off are really benefiting from the low price of air travel,” the report states.

Dr Sally Cairns, one of the authors from the Transport Research Laboratory, said: “If the government wants to reduce aviation growth, it has the power to act now. Raising air passenger duty would help to counter reductions in fares – which are estimated to have been responsible for at least 40 per cent of recent aviation growth.’

Co-author, Carey Newson, said: ‘Opinion polls should encourage the government to revisit its aviation policy. A majority now favour airlines paying higher taxes to reflect environmental damage, even if this means higher airfares.’

Curbing the growth in flights would not necessarily hurt the UK economy as other sectors, such as the domestic tourism industry, could benefit, the report concluded.

The full report can be accessed here at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute website.

Goska Romanowicz

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