Walsh urges context in emissions debate

The European Commission should keep its plans for aviation emissions trading simple and practical, according to Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways.In his first major speech on the environment, Mr Walsh urged the Commission not to risk delaying the extension of its carbon trading scheme to airlines by making the arrangements too complicated.

He said it was vital to bring the EU scheme into operation to demonstrate the aviation industry’s commitment to addressing its impact on global warming.

But he warned that the size of aviation’s share of global carbon emissions was sometimes overstated.

Addressing Ireland’s National Management Conference in Co Wicklow, he said the European scheme should apply, initially at least, to flights within the EU only.

He also said that the initial carbon allocations to airlines should be based on their emissions performance, as in other industries, rather than an auction.


Mr Walsh urged that the scheme should not attempt to take account of the upper atmosphere effects of aircraft, on which there is little scientific consensus and which are not included in the Kyoto Protocol.

“In summary, we urge the European Commission to go for simplicity. Over-complication of a scheme that has to apply to 25 member countries will only cause delay or inconsistent implementation.

“The important thing is to bring the scheme into operation. Of course modifications may become necessary, but a working international system of emissions trading for aviation will send a powerful message that the industry is determined to address its environmental impact.”

He went on: “This is not a painless option for airlines. If we increase our emissions, we will have to pick up the bill. Airlines and their customers will pay for the emissions cuts achieved elsewhere, giving all industries a financial incentive to be as carbon-conscious and fuel-efficient as possible. And over time, the total level of emissions allowed will fall.”

Mr Walsh said the public debate on climate change had created an impression among some people that aviation was the biggest single producer of carbon dioxide emissions.

He continued: “We need some context in this debate. According to latest official estimates, the UK generates two per cent of global CO2 emissions. Aviation, including international flights, is responsible for just over five per cent of UK emissions. So the contribution of UK aviation to global emissions is around 0.1 per cent.

“In other words, if we took the most extreme policy option imaginable and banned all future domestic and international flights from the UK, the effect on global warming would be miniscule.

“While it is crucial that aviation takes action on emissions, the notion that flying is a selfish, anti-social activity that single-handedly threatens planetary catastrophe bears no relation to the evidence.”