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Revealed: The real cost of air travel

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  • mtneuman@juno.com
    Revealed: The real cost of air travel By Michael McCarthy, Marie Woolf and Michael Harrison 28 May 2005 Revealed: The real cost of air travel G8 will not set
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2005
      Revealed: The real cost of air travel
      By Michael McCarthy, Marie Woolf and Michael Harrison
      28 May 2005

      Revealed: The real cost of air travel

      G8 will not set targets to cut global warming

      Tony Juniper: Aviation is fastest-growing source of C02 emissions

      Leading article: The hidden costs of cheap flights

      It might be cheap, but it's going to cost the earth. The cut-price
      airline ticket is fuelling a boom that will make countering global
      warming impossible.

      The tens of thousands of Britons jetting off on cheap flights this
      weekend have been given graphic reminders by leading green groups that
      the huge surge in mass air travel is becoming one of the biggest causes
      of climate change.

      Unless the boom in cheap flights is halted, say Friends of the Earth and
      Greenpeace, Britain and other countries will simply not be able to meet
      targets for cutting back on the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) that
      are causing the atmosphere to warm, with potentially disastrous
      consequences. In spelling out what is for most people - and for many
      politicians - a very uncomfortable truth, they are echoing the warnings
      of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the House of
      Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

      The scientists of the former and the MPs of the latter have set out in
      detail how the soaring growth in CO2 emissions from aircraft that the
      cheap flights bonanza is promoting will do terrible damage to the
      atmosphere and make a nonsense of global warming targets, such as
      Britain's stated aim of cutting CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

      British emissions of C02 from aircraft, expressed in millions of tons of
      carbon, shot up from 4.6 million tons in 1990 to 8.8 million tons in
      2000. But based on predicted air passenger transport growth figures -
      from 180 million passengers per year today to 476 million passengers per
      year by 2030 - they are expected to rise to 17.7 million tons in 2030.

      Aircraft emissions that go directly into the stratosphere have more than
      twice the global warming effect of emissions from cars and power stations
      at ground level and, based on the Government's own calculations, the
      effect of the 2030 emissions will be equivalent to 44.3 million tons of
      carbon - 45 per cent of Britain's expected emissions total at that date.

      That growth alone, the environmental audit committee says, will make
      Britain's 60 per cent CO2 reduction target "meaningless and
      unachievable". The clash of interests cannot be ducked any more, say the
      green groups. "The convenience we enjoy in covering huge distances in a
      short time is one of the fast-growing threats to life on earth," said
      Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends of the Earth.

      "Aviation is an increasing source of climate-changing pollution and we
      must take steps to curb it now. Planes pump out eight times more carbon
      dioxide per passenger mile than a train. A return flight to Australia
      will release as much carbon dioxide as all the heating, light and cooking
      for a house for a year."

      Blake Lee-Harwood, campaigns director for Greenpeace, said: "The simple
      fact is the boom in cheap air travel cannot be reconciled with the
      survival of those things we most value about the planet, and will
      ultimately kill millions of people.

      "The only way to stop the problem is to reduce our flying. We just have
      to accept public transport and highly efficient cars are the only kinds
      of routine transport we can sensibly use, and air travel is just for
      special occasions. We may not like that hard truth but we don't have a
      choice." The green groups feel the only solution is to cut back on demand
      by forcing prices up, especially as commercial aviation has long
      benefited from a very easy tax regime. In other words, people will have
      to be "priced off planes" and the cheap flights bonanza will have to end.

      Bizarrely, the Government is facing in two directions at once. In the
      2003 energy White Paper, it committed itself to tackling climate change
      and announced its 60 per cent CO2 target. But in the aviation White Paper
      later that year, it promised to facilitate the expected mass increase in
      air traffic, if necessary by providing several new runways to cope with
      increased demand

      There is no sign of the two positions being reconciled by Tony Blair.
      Yesterday, it appeared the leaders of the G8 group of nations, set to put
      climate change at the top of the agenda at this summer's G8 meeting in
      Scotland which Tony Blair will chair, are also flunking the issue. A
      leaked draft of a climate change communiqu� showed they were promising
      more research into the effects of aircraft emissions, but shying away
      from any commitment to raise ticket prices.

      One of the leading advocates of an emissions trading scheme for airlines
      is among a group of UK business leaders who wrote to Tony Blair yesterday
      calling for a "step change" in efforts to tackle climate change. Mike
      Clasper, the chief executive of BAA, has been the aviation industry's
      most outspoken supporter of the idea of forcing airlines to pay for
      excessive carbon emissions, even though it could be financially damaging
      to many of his customers. Mr Clasper and 12 other senior businessmen say
      companies are deterred from investing in low carbon technologies because
      of the lack of long-term government policies and concern that their
      international competitiveness will be harmed.

      Other signatories to the letter include the chairman of HSBC bank, Sir
      John Bond, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, Sir Stuart Hampson
      and the chief executive of Scottish Power, Ian Russell.

      The facts about flying

      * Air travel produces 19 times the greenhouse gas emissions of trains;
      and 190 times that of a ship.

      * Aviation could contribute 15 per cent of greenhouse gases each year if

      * Greenhouse gas emissions caused by UK air travel have doubled in the
      past 13 years, from 20.1m tons in 1990 to 39.5m tons in 2004.

      * During the same period emissions from UK cars rose by 8m tons, to 67.8m

      * One return flight to Florida produces the equivalent CO2 of a year's
      average motoring.

      * Emissions at altitude have 2.7 times the environmental impact of those
      on the ground.

      * Air travel is growing at UK airports at an average of 4.25 per cent. In
      1970, 32 million flew from UK airports; in 2002, 189 million. By 2030
      some 500 million passengers may pass through UK airports.

      * Cargo transportation is growing by 7 per cent a year. In 1970, 580,000
      tons of freight were moved by plane; in 2002, 2.2 million tons. It is
      forecast to reach 5 million tons in 2010.

      * 50 per cent of the UK population flew at least once in 2001.

      * Flying 1kg of asparagus from California to the UK uses 900 times more
      energy than the home-grown equivalent.
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