International aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of climate emissions and its impact is projected to rise as much as 360 per cent by 2050.
When measured against whole countries, it is already the sixth biggest carbon polluter in the world, and thats before you factor in non-CO2 emissions, which are an estimated 1.9 times more damaging to our climate than CO2 alone.
And its not just the flights: airports themselves, and the journeys to them, are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, noise pollution, water demand and waste.
This growth is fuelled in large part by a tax and subsidy regime that massively favours the sector – so for example, airlines have tax exemptions on fuel and VAT in the UK is zero rated. Its also driven by an economic model that incentivises more runways, planes and tarmac, regardless of the external costs for those living under flight paths and constant audio attack, or for the NHS treating the effects of breathing in toxic fumes.
The newly published Government Aviation Strategy does nothing to tackle these problems. Despite the odd vague references to cleaner planes and biofuels, overall its a one way ticket to climate chaos.
The industry itself predicts that climate-changing pollution from airlines could be as much as seven times as high as now by 2050. That, of course, is the target date for the UK to reach net zero emissions to address the climate crisis. The extreme heatwave weve already seen this summer in Europe is a stark warning of what failing to do so looks like.
A few years ago, climate researchers at the Met Office said deadly heatwaves like that would normally have occurred twice a century. We have now had three in the past 16 years.
A caring, competent government that makes our shared environment the priority can secure a safe future, provided we act now and within the 11 year window identified by the UN body of climate scientists, the inter-governmental panel on climate change.
Most sectors have legally binding emissions reductions targets, but international aviation has been left out of these frameworks since 1997 so doesnt face the same pressure to reduce.
Shipping is another rapidly growing but barely talked about source of climate emissions. It is used for 80-90 per cent of global trade but, like aviation, is not part of the international regulations on greenhouse gas reduction. Whilst the sector has set its own targets to halve C02 emissions by 2050, this is nothing like far or fast enough – and, as with aviation, the continued overall growth of the sectors will rapidly cancel out any progress, whether thats from making air craft engines more efficient or increased use of solar and wind electricity generation on ships.
This isnt just an environmental issue, its a fairness issue too. More than two thirds of flights are taken by just 15 per cent of the population, and most people dont fly at all in any given year. Families going on holiday once a year are not behind the increase in flying. Its a relatively small number of wealthy individuals flying frequently throughout the year.
Our climate cannot sustain this binge flying. The fairest way to re-balance things is with a frequent flyer levy, which rises steeply with the number of flights taken. So those who fly most, and do the most environmental damage, would pay the highest cost.
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