What should be done about the aviation industry’s ongoing growth in emissions? I have a three stage plan…
First, we have to reduce the overall rate of growth, through addressing demand. As I see it, there are two socially and environmentally positive ways of doing this.
You make the alternatives more attractive.
More people go by train between London and Paris these days because it is a more enjoyable, more convenient experience. It’s as easy to book as a flight, and can be booked sometimes more cheaply, sometimes for about the same, and sometimes for a bit more. But all in all, when making the decision about which option to choose – regardless of the huge carbon emissions saving – the train often wins. Likewise it is much more pleasant to take the train to the Alps than to fly.
But these are exceptions rather than the rule – generally it takes travellers a considerable amount of time and effort to even work out how to get places overland, and that is before they have factored in the additional cost and time it will take. Very few tourism websites – be they hotels, tour companies, destinations or whoever – do very much to encourage or support tourists coming by less emitting forms of transport such as the train. Websites provide helpful how to get to the hotel from the airport, but rarely how to arrive by train.
You support these alternatives by making the cost of flights fairer.
The New Economics Foundation has developed a scheme called the Frequent Flyer Levy. As they explain, under the current situation, “Frequent fliers are causing untold environmental damage – and being rewarded for it with generous tax breaks which all of us pay for.” Under their proposed new model, everyone would get one untaxed flight a year. Tax would be charged at a low rate from the second flight, and then increasing for each extra flight taken in that year. This would be social redistributive, as, “Some people on low incomes would be helped to fly for the first time by this reform. But the modelling shows that by applying a progressively rising tax rate for each flight beyond the first, this small increase would be hugely outweighed by the reduction in demand growth at the top end of the market.”
There’s much more that can be done by all sectors of the industry to promote alternatives to holidays that necessitate flying – writers and bloggers extolling the joys of low carbon holidays, tour companies designing their websites to promote low carbon alternatives, hotels providing incentives to travellers who arrive by train. All of these options and more exist and are being implemented here and there, but they remain at the margins where they need to be the norm.
Beyond reducing growth, the second thing we need to do is ensure that whatever flying takes place is done as efficiently and with as few emissions as possible. We are a very long way from electric planes or a sustainable form of producing biofuels. Norway has recently announced that it plans to make all domestic flights from the country electric by 2040. It’s a start, but to put it in perspective – the state operator Avinor has just bought a two-seater electric plane capable of staying in the air for one hour, and hopes to test a 19 seater equivalent by 2025. Meanwhile, a report at the end of last year revealed that global fossil fuel subsidies are around five trillion dollars a year, representing 6.5% of GDP. Rather than investing this much money in destroying our environment, we have to invest it in saving it. Have a look at the work of Project Drawdown (described as ‘the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming’) to see the most cost-effective and efficient ways of achieving a carbon balanced and livable world.
Offset what’s left
Thirdly – and this is where I diverge from many of my responsible tourism colleagues – we have to offset what’s left. I agree with the former director of Friends of the Earth and Chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, who wrote in the introduction to a report on how best to implement offsets: “I have only one question: when you’ve done everything you can to reduce your own carbon footprint through changing your lifestyle and being super efficient at home, work and play, what are you going to do about the rest? Ignore it – or deal with it by finding the best possible offset product on the market?”
This is an extract from my fortnightly blog for World Travel Market. To read the full post, click here.