Exposed: Britain's Dirty Secret; the Government Has Been Disguising the Quantity of Greenhouse Gases That We Create with Our Flights to and from the UK

By Leake, Jonathan | New Statesman (1996), December 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Exposed: Britain's Dirty Secret; the Government Has Been Disguising the Quantity of Greenhouse Gases That We Create with Our Flights to and from the UK


Leake, Jonathan, New Statesman (1996)


Greenhouse gases generated by British aviation could be far higher than the government's published figures, according to new data obtained from the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT's published figures--which are also the ones used by airlines, and by Gordon Brown when he announced a [pounds sterling]5 hike in air-passenger duty in his 6 December pre-Budget report--state that British aviation generates roughly 34 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

To environmentalists, that figure has long sounded suspiciously small--and now they know why. The department has admitted that it works it out simply by counting the aircraft that take off from Britain. Those that land here are excluded.

That might appear reasonable if half the passengers on those planes were foreigners--but they are not. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, 70 per cent of the passengers landing and taking off from the UK are Britons, most of them taking cheap tourist flights booked and paid for here. Which means that the DfT should be adding up the emissions from all the passenger aircraft flying in to or out of Britain and attributing 70 per cent of them to the UK. That would increase the amount of aviation emissions by 14 million tonnes, bringing the total to roughly 48 million.

This is on top of the 570 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that Britain already admits to creating by other means. At present, under international treaties, aviation is excluded from all national emissions figures--a policy that makes environmentalists angry.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that British aviation is having a far greater impact on climate than generally realised and that the figures we are being given lack transparency," says Tim Yeo, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons environmental audit committee. "Aviation simply cannot be allowed to keep on expanding. We need much higher taxes, or some other way of stopping it growing."

Yet aviation is booming as never before. Last year alone, approximately 200 million passengers passed through Britain's airports. The forecast is for that figure to rise to roughly 470 million by 2030. Under the DfT's official system for calculating emissions--the one based purely on outgoing flights-C[O.sub.2] emissions would rise from 34 million to about 80 million tonnes in the same period. If, however, the proportion of domestic flyers stays the same, the real contribution would be approximately 112 million tonnes of C[O.sub.2] by 2030.

By contrast, Britain has pledged to cut its emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. In other words, by then, the whole country should be emitting no more than 229 million tonnes of C[O.sub.2].

The environmental audit committee has already warned that aviation could derail that policy. It pointed out in its most recent aviation report that the industry's growth is "unsustainable and unacceptable", and said: "Were such growth to occur it could totally destroy the government's commitment to a 60 per cent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050."

Brown's [pounds sterling]5 tax hike looks unlikely to halt that growth. Studies by the Civil Aviation Authority suggest that air passengers would have to be presented with an increase of at least [pounds sterling]30 before they would consider not travelling.

Most damaging activities

The revelations come as the industry faces increasing criticism for its determination to keep expanding regardless of the environmental impacts--and for producing whitewash reports to support that expansion.

Early in December, a study by Oxford Economic Forecasting claimed that UK airport congestion had cost the country [pounds sterling]1. …

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