We need a level playing field on carbon pollution from aviation

TUI Travel PLC has called for an industry standard on reporting fuel and carbon efficiency for UK airlines. They want a set of common metrics to report carbon emissions to ensure greater transparency so that customers can make informed decisions about which airlines to choose.

Last year the European Union postponed the imposition of the Emission Trading Scheme to international carriers, a system intended to put a price on carbon pollution and to encourage the industry to reduce emissions. The travel and tourism industry contributes about 5% of global CO2 emissions with air transport accounting 40% of the travel and tourism sector’s emissions around 2% of global emissions. On current trends the proportion of carbon pollution resulting from travel and tourism is expected to increase.

Although the issue has gone out of the headlines, carbon pollution accelerates and continues to contribute to climate change with adverse impacts on us, other species and the environment. For example, there has been little mention of carbon pollution in the debates about the expansion of London’s airport capacity. Around 25% of all the passengers at Heathrow are transit passengers, not flying direct; contributing to the shortage of slots, one of the main reasons for seeking an increase in capacity; and each of those passengers has at least one or more take-off and landings than is really necessary to get from A to B, to reduce carbon pollution passengers should be flying direct.  It can be argued that airport expansion at Heathrow creates commercial opportunities for BA but provides little benefit to UK plc, those transit passengers contributing next to nothing to the UK economy.

The principle that the polluter pays has long been established and it will eventually impact on the travel and tourism industry. In October the European Union will decide whether the International Civil Aviation Organisation has done enough to persuade the EU not to impose the ETS on international airlines landing in Europe. Many will argue that to impose the ETS only on European airlines would be discriminatory.

An international tax on aviation fuel would give those operators working to reduce their emissions per passenger km a reward and an incentive to do more, and penalise those who are not reducing the pollution they cause. An international tax would price a level playing field, ensuring fair competition, and it could raise a large fund, which could be administered internationally, to assist with research into lower carbon intensity flight and to mitigate climate change impacts in poor countries and those most severely impacted by sea level rise, drought  and flooding.

At WTM November there is a panel on Tuesday 5th at 13:00 on decarbonising travel and tourism, Chaired by Martin Brackenbury we’ll be looking at how consumers might be empowered to make less carbon polluting choices, at what tour operators, hoteliers and  airlines can do to reduce carbon pollution.

On Wednesday 6th at 10:30 there is a round table question time with Stephen Sackur, of Hard Talk, quizzing three industry leaders about what the industry is doing and about what more could be done: the three panellists are Gerald Lawless, President and Group Chief Executive Officer, Jumeirah Group,  Johan Lundgren, Deputy Chief Executive TUI Travel PLC, and  Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism in the Cabinet of South Africa; former Minister of Environment who led the SA delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations for five years.

TUI Travel currently reports its airlines’ carbon emissions per revenue passenger kilometre (gCO2/RPK), this a frequently used standard, but there is no standard way of reporting carbon efficiency , some airlines are still not reporting their carbon emissions.

In their latest Sustainable Holidays Report, TUI Travel announced that it had reached its target of reducing absolute and relative carbon emissions by 6% two years early, and they have now set a stretch target of reducing TUI Travel’s airlines’ per passenger carbon emissions by 9% by 2015 over a 2008 base line.

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