Environmental chiefs join forces to fight growth in air travel

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Britain's environmental leaders today call on the Government to change course over aviation policy - or pay a huge environmental and social price.

In a letter to The Independent, an unprecedented coalition of senior greens, scientists and politicians demands a radical rethink of current plans for air travel expansion, which they say will lead to an enormous increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases causing global warming.

The letter marks the first shot in a campaign highlighting the consequences of allowing air travel to grow in line with demand - the so-called "predict and provide" approach. This was at the heart of the 2003 Aviation White Paper, which foresaw new airport runways being built across Britain in the next 30 years as passenger numbers grow nearly threefold, boosted by the market in cheap flights.

The message of the Rethink! campaign, organised by AirportWatch, an alliance of environmental organisations and community groups at airports around the UK, and being spread by a series of newspaper advertisements, is that unless the Government alters its approach, the price to pay will be unacceptably high, involving at least a doubling of aviation's contribution to climate change. Aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

It will also involve, the campaign says, the exposure of hundreds of thousands more people to aircraft noise, the destruction of numerous natural habitats and historic buildings, and more pollution for communities near airports.

Today's letter is signed not only by leaders of green groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Transport 2000, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the World Wide Fund for Nature, but also by Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green Party politicians, senior scientists such as the chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Sir John Lawton, and the heads of major charities including the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and War On Want.

"We believe that urgent action is needed to bring aviation policy into line with climate change targets," they say.

"The Government must fundamentally rethink its aviation policy so that it plays a part in making the annual cuts in emissions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

Carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft exhausts, if their rapid growth is left unchecked, will alone account for more than the entire amount by which Britain is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gases over the next half-century.

Aircraft currently account for about 4 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions, but by 2030 they could account for a quarter of the total.