Leading article: A minister's hot air about cheap flights

Share

Michael O'Leary, the brash boss of the low-cost airline Ryanair, is not perhaps the man to turn to for judgements on the environment. His response to the landmark Stern review was, after all, that it was "a report by an idiot economist". But it was disingenuous of the environment minister Ian Pearson to brand Mr O'Leary "the irresponsible face of capitalism" for refusing to take climate change seriously.

Mr Pearson is frustrated at the response of the airlines in the Government's attempt to reach a voluntary agreement on controlling emissions. The O'Leary position is that aviation generates just 1.6 per cent of greenhouse gases and the real cause of climate change is cars and power stations; Gordon Brown's decision to double airport tax from next month was "just another tax". On the latter he has a point; the increased tax will do nothing to encourage more economical use of planes and will not help to save the planet at all.

But the main point is that expecting cavalier capitalists like Mr O'Leary to volunteer for curbs is unrealistic, given the highly competitive state of the aviation market. It is the Government that controls the real levers of change.

The prime task, as the Ryanair boss suggests, is to find ways to encourage nations such as China not to choose "old coal" technologies for the new power stations it plans to open. But something has to be done about the airline industry too. Air travel is under-taxed compared with other forms of transport. Flight emissions are the fastest-growing contributor to global warming. And many flights are not necessities in the way that heating a home is.

There is growing political consensus here. The Tories are discussing plans for taxing domestic flights to encourage people to travel by train. The Liberal Democrats published detailed proposals for ending the low tax status of air travel last year. And just before Christmas, the EU proposed that all flights within Europe should be included in the carbon trading scheme.

Aviation cannot escape its share of responsibility. But individuals like Michael O'Leary cannot be expected to embrace that willingly. The Government and its European partners need to take firm action to force the airlines collectively into that emissions trading scheme.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on