Downing Street Demonstration: Leo Hickman, Plane Stupid

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“Hot on the heels of the Stern report and Tony Blair’s grave warning that we only have ten years left to tackle climate change, the Department of Transport is due to publish a progress report on its 2003 Aviation White Paper, some time before the end of the year.

“At the same time as pronouncing climate change as the greatest threat of 21st century, and promising a 60% cut in emissions by 2050, the government is also pressing ahead with plans to treble air passenger numbers by 2030, and build the equivalent in airport capacity of a new Heathrow every five years. Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, but this is especially true here in the UK – 1 in 5 of all internationl flights are to or from a UK airport. Air travel is an uniquely environmentally damaging form of transport, yet it draws greater tax exemptions than any other industry.

“The government’s plans for unlimited aviation growth give the lie to their warm words about tackling climate change. All of the detailed studies that have been done, to fit into the Department of Transport’s highly questionable cost-benefit analysis have reached the same conclusion: that the UK’s commitment to reduce emissions to safe levels cannot be met if we continue to allow and encourage aviation to grow unchecked. Ask the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, ask the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, ask the authors of the Oxford University ‘Predict and Decide’ paper, ask the members of the European Parliament – they all say the same thing.

“This government Aviation White Paper is fatally flawed and must be completely rethought if we are to have any hope of actually achieving the dramatic cuts in emissions that we and the rest of the world need to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“We demand that all UK airport expansion plans be scrapped, and for plans to be drawn up to begin to reduce airport capacity, to wean ourselves off the ‘frequent flyer’ lifestyles on which we are starting to depend. We demand an immediate increase in air-passenger duty to levels that can meet the £9 billion annual tax breaks enjoyed by the aviation industry at present, to be replaced by an EU-wide agreement on the taxation of aviation fuel or charges on aircraft emissions. And we demand an end to the criminally irresponsible short-haul flights to destinations of under 500km, which make up nearly half of all the flights in the EU.

“It’s time for the government to take its head out of the sand and actually begin to take real action that is commensurate with the threat of climate change. The only way forward is to introduce legally binding annual cuts in CO2 emissions, effective immediately. It’s not yet too late, but it soon will be.”

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2006

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