The problem with aviation

Last edited 13 June 2007 at 4:09pm

In terms of damage to the climate, flying is 10 times worse than taking the train. It's responsible for 13 per cent of the UK's impact on the climate (the government's figures). And it's the fastest growing source of emissions in the UK; between 1990 and 2050, emissions from aviation are set to quadruple, which scientists say could wipe out all other emissions savings we make in every other sector (pdf).

The main cause of this massive growth in the UK is the proliferation of short haul routes - often unnecessary domestic ones. But surely this is just a fact of modern life in a capitalist world, isn't it? Just the industry supplying market demand?

"I learnt two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, those successive governments have usually given way to them. Although nowadays the industry pays lip-service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything... airports, runways, terminals."
Chris Mullin, former minister responsible for aviation

Well, no. The industry relies on billions of pounds' worth of subsidies from tax payers' money to keep their prices low - money that could be re-invested in rail companies. And, increasingly, companies like British Airways are employing the tactics of big tobacco and big oil, obscuring scientific arguments with misleading figures, keeping a tight hold over government policy and relentlessly pushing for growth in an unsustainable industry. Greenwashing, shady lobbying, hypocrisy - you name it, they're doing it.

Airlines are continually demanding more - more flights, more airports, more runways, more money and promoting a culture that's more geared towards binge-flying, whatever the cost to the planet.

Take British Airways. Publicly, the company has tried to position itself as a climate leader, by supporting aviation's inclusion in the emissions trading scheme (ETS). In fact, the ETS won't reduce the industry's emissions - and could end up actually making BA money.

In practice, BA fiercely opposes any measures that will curb growth in emissions. The airline is lobbying hard for airport expansion (bigger airports and more runways mean more flight capacity, and more flight capacity means more emissions). In particular, it is pushing for the expansion of Heathrow. It's also launched new and completely unnecessary short haul domestic flights, like the one between Gatwick and Newquay - which is already amply served by other airlines and train lines that are 10 times less polluting.

The problem lies in the fact that the government keeps bowing to the industry's demands. The industry's very close ties to New Labour mean that its demands are usually met. The UK government has even gone so far as to exclude emissions from international aviation from our 2050 emissions targets. And government plans are on the table to expand 30 of the UK's airports.

We're working to put an end a completely reckless response to climate change and drag the aviation industry into the 21st Century. We're calling for an end to all domestic short haul flights, a cap on long haul flights and an end to the UK government's airport expansion plans. Read our frequently asked questions on aviation or find out more about what we're doing.

Follow Greenpeace UK