Michael McCarthy: Proof that we are not taking climate change seriously

Saturday 01 March 2008 01:00

Three years ago, in an eye-catching study, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research calculated that if Britain were to meet its target of cutting greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050, and emissions from aviation were not reduced, all other emissions – from households, businesses, energy generation and motor transport – would have to go to zero. Flying would be taking up everything that was available.

Somewhat excessive as that prediction may sound, it is clearly well on the way to being fulfilled, as emissions from aircraft show no sign whatsoever of being reduced, now or in the future, and the imminent, startling increase in flights which has been highlighted today only serves to reinforce this conclusion. It is not only that their growth seems endless. Emissions from aircraft exhausts are such a serious concern in the struggle to contain climate change because a tonne of plane pollution ejected directly into the stratosphere is two to four times as harmful as a tonne emitted at ground level. If we are serious about coping with global warming, something is going to have to be done. Asking individuals to refrain from flying may fit in with "deep green" philosophy, but it is clear from the fact that the low-cost carriers are launching such flights as Cardiff to Gdansk and Newcastle to Rennes, that in Britain we not only have a love affair with flying, we have an addiction. Exhortation is not going to change this. Similarly, asking the airlines themselves to cut back is going to be met with a hollow laugh– growth is their very lifeblood. Even when they join the EU's emissions trading scheme, designed to cut CO2 right across Europe, they will not actually cut back their emissions – they will simply buy permits to continue pushing them out, and so carry on growing.

Ultimately, the only answer to the problem of aviation and climate change is Government intervention: a cap will have to be put on how much CO2 British planes can ultimately emit, repugnant as that may seem to a Labour government steeped in the Thatcherite legacy of belief in the free market. The market can do a lot of useful things but, as has been observed before, delivering a clean planet isn't one of them.

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