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POLLUTION FROM AIR TRAVEL

Here is a useful report from the Times (November 30, 2002 ) about proposals by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for taxation of air travel.

There seems to be an assumption that taxing air travel will somehow neutralise CO2 emissions. It is true that a substantial tax is likely to curb the growth of air travel but current levels are unsustainable. For air travel at anything like current levels to be sustainable, it will be necessary to find ways of powering planes that does not release fossil CO2 into the atmosphere. Taxing air travel will certainly provide an incentive for these developments but it is not clear that a tax of £70 per flight will be sufficient.


Green tax of £70 a flight 'needed to save planet'

By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

AIRLINE passengers should pay a green tax of at least £70 per return ticket to reduce the amount of global warming caused by flights, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said yesterday.

The threat to the environment from the rising demand for air travel was so great that no new runways should be built in Britain, commissioners said. Short-haul trips, which have boomed in recent years with the rise of budget airlines, were particularly damaging and should be largely eliminated.

The commission calculates that aviation’s contribution to global warming will quadruple by 2050 unless demand is checked by a tax on aircraft emissions and a ban on airport expansion. Airlines immediately condemned the proposals as a “tax on holidays”.

In a report published yesterday the commission accused the Government of breaching its own commitment to sustainable development by proposing to allow a tripling in air travel by 2030.

The report says: “The Government shows little sign of having recognised these problems but regards further substantial growth in aviation as inevitable. It is imperative that environmental priorities are not simply sidelined as being too difficult.”

The commission is an independent body of senior scientists and environment experts that issues reports to Parliament.

Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at Surrey University, said that the growing trend towards taking weekend breaks to European capitals was unsustainable. Short-haul flights caused more pollution per mile travelled than long-haul flights because a fifth of all fuel was used in taking off and landing.

The commission argues that its proposed emissions tax should be reinvested in better rail links. It says that rail travel is far less polluting and could replace nearly all domestic flights.

Professor Clift admitted that many journeys to Europe would take too long by rail. “We will have to return to the time when going away for the weekend meant York or Bath, not Venice,” he said. Asked whether this meant that future generations would no longer be able to travel the world, he replied: “That’s what we are saying.”

Paul Ekins, head of environment at the Policy Studies Institute and another commission member, said that the Government would be guilty of a huge waste of money if it approved new runways or airports. He said that they would have to remain empty to prevent climate change.

Ministers are consulting on several options for expanding airport capacity to meet demand, including a short third runway at Heathrow, up to three more runways at Stansted and a four or five-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent. New runways at Gatwick will also be included in the options after ministers lost a High Court battle this week.

The Government has predicted that existing capacity will run out at South East airports by 2015 and that ticket prices will rise by £100 by 2030 if no new runways are built.

But the commission says that growth must be restricted, not just by refusing to build more runways but by imposing a European-wide emissions tax. This would be levied on airlines but should be recorded on tickets to “send an important signal to travellers”. The tax should initially be set at £35 for a single journey but this would have to rise to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check.

Roger Wiltshire, secretary-general of the British Air Transport Association, which represents UK airlines, said: “The commission is proposing a return to postwar rationing. This would be a tax on holidays and essential business journeys . . . If the commission has its way the UK will become a difficult place to visit and to leave.”

The commission accepts that forcing up the cost of air travel would make it too expensive for many people. But John Spiers, a commission member and president of the National Society for Clean Air, said that the Government could introduce a voucher system to ensure equal access.

The Department for Transport has suggested that air fares would need to be taxed at a maximum of 10 per cent to cover the environmental cost of each flight.