Sonia Sodha: A radical way to cut emissions – ration everyone’s flights
Date added: May 11, 2018
As people get richer, and the pull of cheap flights and increasing numbers of holidays and short breaks gets ever stronger, we need some way to curb the growth in demand for air travel. People will never voluntarily cut their trips. Sonia Sodha, knowing she and others need to be forced to do so, suggests an individual flights limit, that people can trade with others – along the lines of trading carbon allowances. She says “‘We’re only going to make a dent in climate change by doing something pretty radical.” … “Everyone could be given an air mile allowance – say enough for one long-haul return flight a year, or three short-haul flights, so people with families on the other side of the world could see them once a year. If you don’t want to use your allowance, you could sell it off in a government-regulated online marketplace. If you’re keen to do a holiday a month, you’ll have to buy your allowance from someone else.” Mind you, the amount she suggests per person is very high (far beyond what the climate could tolerate, and far beyond the ambition of keeping global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees C. But at least it is getting this concept discussed ….
A radical way to cut emissions – ration everyone’s flights
Sonia Sodha (Observer’s chief leader writer)
An individual cap on air travel, that people can trade with each other, would help to reduce the impact of flying
Maybe it’s just because I’m back from a bank holiday weekend in north Wales that was filled with glorious Mediterranean-style sunshine. But reading about a new study that says global tourism now accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, three times more than was previously thought made me think– surely we can do better?
Whenever I hear about the impact global tourism has on the environment I experience a pang of guilt. While it’s not just the greenhouse gases churned out by planes that are the problem – the study points out it’s also what tourists do when they get to their destination – they account for a big chunk. And yet it’s a pang of guilt I never act on. It’s just too easy to ignore when it’s often cheaper to get a short-hop flight to somewhere sunny than it is to buy an off-peak return on the train to many parts of the UK.
Making consumers feel so guilty they change their behaviour – taking more holidays in the UK, forking out hundreds to get to European destinations by train – just isn’t going to work; I’m proof of that.
We need firmer action. But increasing the government levies on air travel – forcing up prices to get people to fly less – isn’t the answer. This would have little impact on the most affluent travellers, while hitting the poorest in society.
Instead we should look to carbon trading schemes for inspiration. In schemes running in the EU and some areas of the US, international organisations or governments sign up to a total limit on carbon emissions. They then issue companies with permits that allow them to emit a certain amount of carbon. It’s then up to the companies to trade the permits. Companies that want to emit more can buy permits from those that manage to reduce their carbon emissions.
We could develop a similar system for flights. Everyone could be given an air mile allowance – say enough for one long-haul return flight a year, or three short-haul flights, so people with families on the other side of the world could see them once a year. If you don’t want to use your allowance, you could sell it off in a government-regulated online marketplace. If you’re keen to do a holiday a month, you’ll have to buy your allowance from someone else.
This would be far preferable to increasing tax on airline tickets. It would be redistributive: everyone gets a certain number of air miles, but if you’d rather get the thousands of pounds you could command for them on the online marketplace, you’re free to sell them. Same if you’re just not that bothered about going abroad. But if you want to go over your allowance, it will be at a cost.
Cutting global air travel may be only part of the solution but an individual cap on air travel – that people can trade with each other as they wish – could help reduce the impact flying has on our environment. It’s certainly better than the alternatives – crossing our fingers and hoping people suddenly discover an environmental conscience even if it does mean missing out on that weekend in the sun, or whacking up green taxes in a way that adversely affects less affluent families.
• Sonia Sodha is the Observer’s chief leader writer
and the concept that people should be allocated one tax-free flight per year, with each successive flight after that having an increasing amount of tax. So by a person’s 5th flight the tax would be significant, and by their 10th flight, it would be quite high – high enough to be a disincentive.
How airlines can fly around new carbon rules
Aircraft are gradually becoming more fuel efficient, but that’s not happening fast enough to keep up with the boom in flying
The world’s airline industry adds to climate change. It burns the equivalent of more than 5m barrels of oil a day, adding up to around 2.5% of all carbon dioxide pollution, in addition to nitrogen oxides, soot and water vapour, which place an even bigger burden on the world’s climate.
Aircraft are gradually becoming more fuel efficient, but that’s not happening fast enough to keep up with the huge boom in flying – since the 1970s, global air traffic has doubled in size roughly every 15 years. Flying is still cheap and budget airlines make it even more attractive, partly thanks to an international agreement reached in 1944 that prohibits tax on aviation fuel for international flights.
Aviation, as well as shipping, was also exempted from the Paris international climate agreement to limit greenhouse gases. Last October, though, a new aviation accord was reached: the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia).
This will give countries’ airlines a quota of carbon emissions, and if they exceed those limits they will have to buy additional units of carbon quotas, which will be traded openly on a carbon exchange. The money raised from these transactions will go to UN-approved environmental schemes and carbon-offset projects.
It sounds like a breakthrough, and it’s a step in the right direction, but there are drawbacks. The scheme doesn’t come fully into operation for another decade, it doesn’t include every country (Russia and India have not signed up), only applies to international flights, and offsets cover only CO2 emissions.
Airlines can still carry on polluting if they wish, and the agreement does little to stifle the huge growth in aviation.