If 2019 kick-started the conversation on sustainability, 2020 seems to be the year discussions are turning to actions for travel.
So far we’ve seen Lonely Planet and Intrepid team up on carbon-neutral tours; MSC Cruises launch new sustainable trips; NCL eliminate single-use plastic bottles; and 30 businesses sign up to the Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative.
Now aviation is boldly pledging to make the UK’s airline industry free from carbon emissions by 2050.
It also projects a 70% increase in UK passenger numbers by 2050, prompting Responsible Travel’s Justin Francis to reasonably question whether its environmental commitment is “something of an oxymoron”.
The UK Sustainable Aviation coalition insists not. Its pledge, it says, will be fulfilled by measures such as “smarter flight operations, new aircraft and engine technology”.
Crucially, it has the backing of transport secretary Grant Shapps. And government support is critical because, as aviation expert John Grant notes, “sustainable aviation requires investment in infrastructure”.
The ever-growing pot of Air Passenger Duty collected by HMRC is well placed to fund this (and was certainly promised as such), although the government will likely be reluctant to divest these funds.
Kuoni notes in its annual Worldwide Travel Report that carbon reduction, slow travel and the war on plastic are increasingly entering the consumer consciousness. It also carries the doom-laden warning – “if we fail to make changes, travel as we know it could become a thing of the past”.
Given the climate emergency facing us, few would disagree. But as Francis points out: “Genuine progress demands bolder government leadership and measurable accountability.”
If platitudes – and pledges – are to become reality, the industry shouldn’t be expected to meet these challenges alone.