Airlines attacked for climate change attitude

A British government minister has launched an attack on major airlines for refusing to take climate change seriously. Environment minister Ian Pearson branded Ryanair as ‘the irresponsible face of capitalism’’ and warned that British Airways was ‘only just about playing ball’’ in the fight to reduce carbon emissions.

The lobby group GreenSkies Alliance said it is pleased to see that “Labour is targeting airlines over carbon emissions.”

The organisation also believes that the Government’s current enthusiasm for including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme is speculative and misplaced.

Jeff Gazzard, the GreenSkies Alliance spokesman said:

The aviation industry, encouraged by Mr Pearson’s Government colleagues at the Department for Transport, believes it can parasite its way to ensuring climate chaos by living off CO2 reductions supposedly made elsewhere. The industry’s pro-ETS offensive is just a massive smoke and mirrors PR exercise to avoid real cuts as Mr Pearson’s comments have now helped expose.


As the respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said recently, “If the UK government does not curb aviation growth, all other sectors of the economy will eventually be forced to become carbon neutral”. Unrestrained growth in air travel simply cancels out all the CO2 reductions from all other sectors of our economy, an inconvenient but nevertheless straightforward prognosis.

Technology, better aircraft and engines, and operational improvements, leading to more efficient air traffic management, might deliver around 1-2% fuel efficiency gains for airlines annually up to 2030. But even these aggressive, highly optimistic paper targets will keep lagging behind annual emissions growth of 3-4%.

The recent Stern Report clearly recommended that airline ticket prices should reflect the cost of the environmental damage air travel causes.

Research endorsed by the European Environment Agency puts the external environment costs of air travel at around £36 each time one passenger flies one thousand kilometres. Adding this level of environmental taxation to tickets cuts future growth in half, so instead of 476 million frequent flyers in 2030, a pragmatic limit of around 300 million passengers would be the UK’s “never exceed” cap in a carbon-constrained future. This level of growth would probably still not be environmentally benign but would at least end the “need” for more runway construction, largely constraining growth within current airport runway infrastructure.

“If anyone still thinks such market-based policies will result in real, lasting economy-wide moves towards a carbon-constrained future, they need to wake up, fast. Energy-intensive fossil fuel users including airlines are gambling on getting rights to continue polluting for next to nothing - naive and misguided policymakers are gambling with the planet. That’s what markets do - they gamble! The current ETS scheme for airlines is specifically designed to allow them to carry on polluting as usual and parasite their way to ensuring climate chaos.”

Jeff Gazzard added:

“For a couple of years now we have been asked to believe that airline boardrooms everywhere are in fact looking forward to the day they can pay the costs - $88 per tonne according to Stern - associated with their CO2 emissions. This always was, frankly, a counter-intuitive proposition, so Mr Pearson’s pointed comments at least endorse this view.

What we are all simply going to have to do is fly less than the industry forecasts in the future - at a mere 3.6 pence per passenger kilometre, if it’s cheap and effective you’re after, then demand management is cheapest way to cut emissions. This is the kind of policy Mr Pearson should take up and run with if he actually wants to cut airline emissions - after all, that is his job!”