Tony Juniper: Aviation is fastest-growing source of C02 emissions

To fly or not to fly? Many of us facing a long journey, or even a short one, would not even consider the question. Cheaper flights to ever-more destinations prove irresistible to the travelling public, while business travel is seen as inevitable in a global market place.

But increased demand for flights threatens the future of our planet. Aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest cause of climate change. And because the pollution is released at a high altitude, it has a greater impact.

Extreme climate events have already become more frequent. In 2003, the heatwave in Europe resulted in 26,000 premature deaths and cost $13.5bn (£7.5bn). Around the world, climate change already kills 160,000 people every year.

At home, the risk of droughts, floods, and freak storms is expected to increase. Sea levels are rising, with forecasters predicting an increase of 88cm by 2100. If carbon dioxide emissions do not peak and then decline within the next 10 to 15 years, scientists say, the result may be an abrupt change in climate, with devastating consequences.

Technology can play a part in tackling the problem. Aircraft are becoming more fuel efficient, reducing emission levels. But this is happening at a rate of just 1 per cent a year, while flights are increasing by 5 per cent.

Individuals can make a difference. By choosing to spend holidays in the UK rather than abroad, or by using the train. But the scale of the problem is such that tackling climate change cannot be left to personal choice. Government action is required.

Current aviation policy allows forunchecked growth of aviation fuelled by market demand driven in turn by falling ticket prices. New runways at London airports and new airports will cater for a predicted trebling in the number of flights. Aviation is effectively subsidised, with no tax on aviation fuel, and no VAT on domestic flights. Air passenger duty on cheap flights has been reduced.

An easy first step for the Government would be to increase air passenger duty in the next budget. Options also exist to add a European-wide kerosene tax and introduce a European-wide emissions charge. Yes, this would make flying more expensive, but cheap flights are not after all a human right.

Friends of the Earth wants a new law to tackle climate change, committing the Government to making annual cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of 3 per cent. By introducing a legal framework, emissions can be reduced in a manageable way. Aviation is of course a global business. But by taking strong action at home, the Government can show international leadership.

Tony Juniper is executive director of Friends of the Earth