UK urges change on cheap air travel

UK politicians are being asked to act to curb the demand of low-cost flights to stop people becoming addicted to highly polluting cheap air travel, researchers are warning. A hard-hitting Oxford University report is pushing for the UK government to take action on air travel and climate change.

The report urges raising taxes on aviation, warning that action is needed to halt the rapid expansion of the industry, which threatens to produce vastly more greenhouse gases by the middle of the century.

The report by Sally Cairns and Carey Newson for the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University is the most comprehensive examination to date of the challenge faced by the UK Government in reconciling its aviation policy with its targets to tackle climate change.

The report, “Predict and decide: Aviation, climate change and policy” will be launched at 11.00 on Tuesday, October 17th 2006, House of Lords Committee Room 3A, House of Lords, Westminster. This event is hosted by the all-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Aviation Group.

The report synthesizes the latest research into the social, economic and environmental issues surrounding aviation policy, and concludes that:


p>-      Aviation is set to consume a large proportion of the UK’s carbon budget, under even the most conservative growth forecasts and allowing for all realistic improvements in technology.


-      Public awareness of these issues has grown steadily and support for restraining the growth in air travel now outweighs opposition, with a majority in favour of airlines paying for environmental damage, even if this means higher fares. These findings give the lie to politicians’ oft-repeated fallback that there are ‘no votes in taxing air travel’.


-      Cheap flights have not made aviation a socially-inclusive activity; on the contrary they are enabling the well-off to develop ‘air-dependent’ lifestyles which may prove hard to alter once they become engrained.


-      The economic case made for continued expansion neglects factors such as the negative impacts that cheap flights have on the UK tourism industry, the public revenue lost through on-going tax exemptions, and the drastic carbon cuts that will be required from all other sectors if aviation is allowed to expand unchecked.


-      The mechanisms to tax air travel are simple and readily implemented - for instance a rise in Air Passenger Duty. The Government’s preferred solution of including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is complex, unlikely to be implemented for several years and even then its outcome is highly uncertain.


Government policies are identified as doing little to slow down emissions from air travel which the report highlights as one of the fastest growing sources of damaging climate-changing emissions.


Jeff Gazzard, Aviation Environment Federation Board Member, said:


“This isn’t the first time that serious academic research has highlighted the Government’s failure to control the climate change impacts of flying. Comment is always better accompanied by progressive and intelligent policy analysis - and this latest report has pulled together a number of convincing public opinion attitudinal surveys that show very strong support for green taxes on air transport.


These findings give the lie to politicians’ oft-repeated fallback that there are ‘no votes in taxing air travel’. There clearly are.”


Jeff Gazzard added:


“This doesn’t mean the end of flying - what it does mean is that we can start to sensibly and pragmatically control & reduce the runaway climate change impacts of this sector. The polluter- the passenger - must & should pay. And as MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee recent inquiry into aviation’s carbon emissions impacts uncompromisingly stated:


“The Department should implement demand management measures straightaway…”


We hope the new Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander, will personally read the Oxford University, react immediately and fundamentally rethink current air transport policy - urgent action is needed to control and reduce aviation’s emissions.”