With environmental issues taking an increasing profile in politics, and the major British parties competing as to who can appear the most ‘green’, Chancellor Gordon Brown took the opportunity in his pre-Budget statement yesterday to raise air passenger duty from £5 to £10 for most flights. After the Stern report highlighted the contribution of aviation to global emissions and the possible cost of climate change caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases, it is easy to present this as a ‘green’ tax, but will it really have any impact on the amount we travel, and are there better ways to deal with the contribution of air travel to climate change?

The likely effects of climate change on tourism, and the contribution of the travel and tourism industries to global warming, have been regularly featured in articles on, the CABI database and website featuring the leisure, travel and tourism industries. Last week the site reported on a voluntary carbon offset scheme which the tourism industry is planning to introduce in March 2007, in which holidaymakers will be encouraged to offset the carbon costs of their trips by funding renewable energy and energy conservation schemes in developing countries. It was hoped that the scheme would demonstrate to the government that the travel industry is taking global warming seriously and persuade it not to increase Air Passenger Duty in the budget, although some industry leaders admitted that it was likely Chancellor Brown was likely to go ahead and increase the tax anyway.

Partly in efforts to stave off what may be increasing tax levels in the future, the airline industry has lately become generally supportive of plans to include air travel in emissions trading schemes which are becoming the preferred way to encourage industry to be more environmentally responsible. Rather than the comparatively ‘blunt instrument’ of taxation per head, emissions trading would reward airlines that have more efficient aircraft and fuller planes, and penalise those that emit more carbon per passenger.

Will a £5 increase in air tax have any effect on how much we fly? Somehow, it seems unlikely. Few doubt these days the importance of acting on climate change and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but encouraging airlines to be more carbon-efficient, and passengers to offset the ‘carbon footprint’ of their journeys, may be better ways than a modest increase in air passenger duty.

Climate change receives wide coverage on CAB Abstracts, and the relationship to the travel and tourism industries is an important subject area within The effects of air travel are featured in this abstract from a paper published last year.

Air transport. Climate change to come?

Dubois, G. , Céron, J. P. / Espaces, Tourisme & Loisirs, 2005, No. 224, pp. 48-55

Air transport is expected to increase by 1.7% per year until 2050. Environmental problems related to this development are many: air transport contributes only to 2% of total carbon dioxide emissions, but it also emits other greenhouse gases and, above all, most emissions are at high altitude with a warming power 3 times higher than those at ground level. OECD studies show that air transport’s contribution to climate change should overtake that of cars between 2010 and 2030. The diminishing stocks in oil are another threat to air transport, although kerosene could be produced from coal. Sky congestion is another issue for air transport. Local impacts from airports such as noise and air pollution are also of concern, especially as people are more likely to react to local issues rather than global problems. Sky congestion could be reduced by accessing hubs by high-speed trains rather than domestic flights. Technical progress cannot guarantee a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.For example, hydrogen engines would produce large quantities of water vapour, which will still have an important greenhouse effect at high altitude. It appears that kerosene should soon be taxed as is petrol to internalize environmental costs in air fares. Tourism operators will have to start thinking that trains and boats may need to replace planes on some destinations. They cannot carry on ignoring the fact that something needs to be done to limit the impact of air transport on climate change.

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