“From little acorns grow mighty trees.” So said Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary of tree-planting offset schemes on Panorama’s Can Flying Go Green? this week.
Quite. But lack of effective scale aside, seedlings are not mighty, carbon-guzzling oaks. They take decades to mature. This is time we don’t have.
Yet as public pressure intensifies around the climate crisis, airlines are keenly paying increased lip service to “greening” the sector.
And offsets – appeasing both passengers and regulators, yet costing airlines very little – have become a key buzzword. Except they don’t work.
A 2017 study from the European Commission found 85% of offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism – some of the most highly regarded offset schemes in the world – failed to reduce emissions.
If aviation were a country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter of CO2. As expansion continues unabated, the International Civil Aviation Organisation predicts its emissions will rise by at least 300% by 2050.
Offsets embolden growth we can’t afford. Moreover, they remove any incentive for aviation to reduce emissions and channel serious investment into urgently needed cleaner technology. They’re a distraction, and dangerous for it. We need significant carbon reduction and a limit on growth.
A Green Flying Duty can help. It’s our term for an increased Air Passenger Duty (APD) but, crucially, with its revenue ring-fenced for research and development into cleaner aviation technology.
This should include a higher rate for domestic flights, and another for business and first class to account for their weightier and more polluting load. It’ll reduce demand, increase investment in necessary technologies, and it’s quick to apply.
If we fail to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, climate change will become uncontrollable. This is a health, environmental and human survival emergency.
If we are to achieve necessary the emissions cuts, aviation cannot rely on others to carry its burden. Airlines won’t clean up their own act; they won’t go far enough, or fast enough.
Revelations of “fuel tankering”, carrying extra fuel onboard to avoid higher costs in destination countries (which is a highly polluting and completely unnecessary process that saves just pennies), make clear the sector’s true priorities.
And we can’t feign surprise. Urgent and significant carbon reduction is our only solution, and that necessitates a limit on growth – and enforced government regulation.
Aviation fuel is, astonishingly, still exempt from tax and VAT. Even after APD, these are tax breaks to the tune of billions, which keep the cost of flying artificially low. The “polluter pays” principle must be applied, with revenue raised being channelled into urgent research and development.
The climate crisis doesn’t afford us the luxury of time – it demands a coordinated response. We in the travel sector know what needs to happen, so let’s step up and get on with it together.