Byline: Hugo Duncan
THE airline industry is under renewed pressure to cut emissions following the inclusion of the Climate Change Bill in the Queen's Speech.
The Government wants to make its goal of a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 legally binding as it tackles global warming.
And for some in the environmental lobby this means an all-out attack on aviation with airport expansion plans scrapped, green taxes imposed and short-haul flights banned.
Industry experts see this as unlikely and the airlines appear to agree - with Easyjet this week securing deals with Airbus for more than 100 new planes.
Ryanair's outspoken boss Michael O'Leary dismissed calls for taxes on aviation as "the usual horse s**t" and said levies on airlines will not stop people flying.
And British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh warned that punitive measures against the industry will damage the economy and drive business overseas.
The industry argues that it is an easy target for environmentalists and is even demonised in the climate change debate.
But with such weight now behind the argument for lower emissions, the airlines are getting ready to adapt, with many carriers backing measures such as a carbon trading system in which the polluters pay.
The Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change published by Sir Nicholas Stern said aviation accounted for 1.6% global greenhouse gas emissions.
That is far less than the 14% accounted for by transport in general and the 24% accounted for by power firms.
Peter Morris, chief economist at aviation analysis group Ascend, said aviation emissions were "quite frankly trivial" when compared with overall transport and global emissions.
And airlines analyst Penny Butcher, of Morgan Stanley, said there are "bigger fish to fry" in the battle against global war ming.
The airline industry is much greener now than it was in the 1970s with passenger emissions per kilometre 70 % lower.
And operators such as Ryanair and Easyjet market themselves as environmentally friendly with more modern planes meaning emissions are around 30% lower than traditional operators.
But the Stern Report said aviation will account for 5 % of the total global warming effect in 2050 if no action is taken, making it one of the fastest growing industries for emissions.
Indeed, air travel in the UK is expected to treble by 2030 with plans to spend billions of pounds building new runways and terminals across the country.
Campaign group Plane Stupid said: "Aviation is the fastest growing cause of climate change and a major threat to the earth and everything on it."
A leaked letter from Environment Secretary David Milliband to Chancellor Gordon Brown included proposals for hikes on fuel and air passenger duty with the tax system seen as a vital tool in tackling global war ming.
The letter pointed out that air travel is currently "lightly taxed" and added that raising air passenger duty by pounds 5 would raise pounds 400m a year. …