Industry fight back begins
Spokespersons for airline companies have been hard at work, trying to allay public concerns by quoting a 2-3% contribution to global CO2 emissions. As we've come to expect from the aviation industry, this is misleading: the figure corresponds to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 1990. Aviation emissions more than doubled during decade which followed.
These figures also ignore per capita rates: British citizens fly more than those of any other nation except the United States. If everyone flew as much as people in the UK, the figure would be about ten times higher.
In May the government quoted the figure of 13% as aviation’s contribution to UK greenhouse gas emissions, which uses a conservative radiative forcing factor of two. If you include flights to and from the UK by UK citizens (the government excludes the former), the sector now contributes about 18.5% of the climate-changing emissions for which this country is responsible (see the Aviation Environment Foundation).
This proportion is growing all time, fueled by the airport expansion laid out in the government’s ‘The Future of Air Transport’ White Paper of 2003. East Midlands for example, has so far this year added 6 new aircraft gates and a departure lounge, and is moving 20% more passengers compared to last year. Eleven new flights were added by one short-haul operator alone this spring, bringing another 500,000 passengers through the gates each year.
As expansion continues, so the growing coalition of green groups and residents gathers pace. The industry cannot afford to ignore this pressure. Airline spokespersons commonly respond by stating that emissions from aviation comprise a small proportion of global CO2 emissions. But their tactics are growing more cunning: recently The Independent, in collaboration with the Royal Aeronautical Society, published an entire supplement carrying features about the 'green future' of the industry and its vital role in international aid work (e.g. 'How aviation can rebuild lives around the world'). The same edition carried another supplement with a headline feature on food miles. No one noticed the irony.
The industry is on the back foot, but the fightback is beginning. The build up to the draft Climate Change bill, and the battle to get aviation into it, will see it pulling out all the stops to protect its interests. It's up to us to make sure the industry does not get away with it.