The Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that climate change accounts for over 300,000 deaths each year, the equivalent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami every year. A report commissioned by University College London and the Lancet has concluded that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and that the poor will be the worst affected. Climate change impacts mainly on the world’s poor in the developed and the developing world.

Tourism offers opportunities for the economically poor to engage in a global industry and to secure livelihoods from it. The tourism industry is taking responsibility and making real efforts to improve its sustainability. The airline industry is still in denial. The UK government has seen an opportunity to raise tax and taken it.

Tourism came to predominate in the Caribbean for the want of other industries which could find a market. Tobacco and sugar were industries undermined by taxation and health campaigns in the developed countries of Europe and Noth America. Tourism is the Caribbean’s comparative advantage.

Air Passenger Duty (APD) raises revenue for the UK Treasury but it is NOT a green tax. It does not ensure that the polluter pays and the revenues are not hypothecated to assist those who are affected with adaptation. So APD fails to penalise those airlines which pollute the most, the passenger pays the same regardless of how much pollution they cause and there is no incentive for the industry to clean up its act and to be more carbon efficient reducing pollution.

And APD is inequitable – the tariff being dependent on the air miles to the capital city rather than the actual fuel burned and the pollution caused. APD does nothing to help the economically poor cope with climate change.

The challenge is to find and deploy a mechanism which can be introduced globally, which provides a level playing field and which is cheap and efficient to operate, which places effective pressure on the airlines to reduce their carbon emissions by flying more fuel efficient planes, improving their operating procedures and load factors; and which meets the full costs of the floods, famine and disease caused by their carbon pollution and ensures, through hypothecation, that those affected are helped to adapt.

This proposal would hypothecate tax raised from those able to afford to fly, whether in the developed or developing world, for business or for leisure, to assist those bearing the brunt of climate change. The polluter, the airline, pays. Those who take responsibility and achieve greater efficiencies, reducing their carbon pollution, would pay less; such a tax would push the airlines to move out of denial, and to reduce their emissions. No passenger tax can achieve that.

It is the relatively wealthy in the developed and developing worlds that fly; their flying imposes costs on others. Those costs should be met in full by those who fly and the proceeds should be hypothecated to establish a Global Adaptation Fund to benefit those areas of the world most seriously impacted by climate change.

A global tax on aviation based on fuel purchases and the DEFRA shadow price of carbon at £27 per ton could raise £16bn for adaptation and this would transfer wealth from the relative wealthy to the economically poor affected by climate change. This would cost an average of between £7 and £8 extra per passenger per flight and if airlines were taxed on the basis of fuel consumed at the end of a quarterly accounting period they would be incentivised to increase their fuel efficiency per revenue passenger mile.

Consumers have rightly been wary of carbon offsetting. However, when offered the opportunity to choose a carbon efficient airline through a commercial carbon friendly flight calculator which enables them to identify the greenest and cheapest 57% of them chose that option, paying an average premium of 19% over the cheapest flights.

This is an equitable approach – those who fly pay a tax based on how much carbon they cause to pollute the earth’s atmospheres and the amount they pay is determined by how much pollution they cause at the full price of carbon.

Consumers have demonstrated that they are willing to take responsibility. The British Government could provide international leadership, announce a new strategy to raise significant funds for adaptation and work through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to have a proposal on the table for Copenhagen.

APD should be abandoned in favour of air fuel taxation – the British Prime Minister could pay for UK air passenger pollution with a cheque backed by APD earnings and lead the campaign to introduce a more equitable airline fuel tax through ICAO. Now that would be enlightened leadership

Professor Harold Goodwin
International Centre for Responsible Tourism
Leeds Metropolitan University

As the Economist argued in its editorial back in July 2008 (17th) cheap air travel has transformed Europe. Deregulation created a new low fare industry bringing the populations of member states closer together. The Economist pointed out that in 2000 there were just five scheduled routes between Britain and Poland. In 2006 there were 27 routes linking 12 Polish cities to 12 British ones. Between 2003 and 2007 a 1,000 new city pairs were created in Europe linking regional cities not just the capitals. “Low fares and multiplying routes have made it possible for a new brand of highly mobile Europeans to work, live and weekend in different countries.” Business travel is being undertaken by lower income passengers.

What was wonderful change a decade ago must now be reconsidered in a world of carbon constraint.

In November 2008 (8th) The Economist was pointing out that scarce take-off and landing slots have recently changed hands at Heathrow for £30m a piece. But is characterised the claims for enlarging the airport as “specious of misleading”.

More than one third of passengers arriving at Heathrow are transfer passengers – up 9% on the early 1990s. The extra numbers are useful to the airlines and the airport operator “but the notion that they play a vital role in connecting London with the rest of the world is not supported by the evidence.” The Economist points out that as the number of transit passengers has grown the number of destinations served out o f Heathrow has shrunk form about 230 to 180.
In September 2009 (26th) The Economist reports Walsh’s announcements at the UN on behalf of IATA with scepticism.
“.. some scepticism is in order. Mr Walsh described the 50% cut by 2050 as an ‘aspiration’.” Airbus has said that it will not producer a successor to the A320 until 2024. The Economist concludes:
“Like St Augustine the industry’s motto appears to be “Make me virtuous, but not yet.”

In May the Global Humanitarian Forum estimated that climate change accounts for over 300,000 deaths each year, the equivalent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami every year. Climate change impacts most on the world’s poor in the developed and the developing world. A report commissioned by University College London and the Lancet has concluded that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and that the poor will be the first affected.

The tourism industry in the UK and around the world provides life enhancing and life changing experiences to billions of people each year and brings economic development to countries and regions often with no other viable means of engaging in the world economy. The tourism industry has begun to take responsibility and is making real efforts to improve its sustainability. The airline industry is still in denial.

The airline industry secured its exclusion from the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Last week Willie Walsh and IATA, on behalf of the global airline industry, announced that they now favour a ‘global sectoral approach.’ They proposed some vague targets and then asked for more time, until November 2010 to come up with a framework and a delivery mechanism. If this were accepted aviation would again secure an exemption. The sector’s approach has been denial followed by procrastination. The airline industry has failed to exercise responsibility. Through the Copenhagen process and the International Civil Aviation Organisation the British government could, and should, take responsibility.

A few individual airlines have exercised responsibility, reducing their fuel consumption and consequently their carbon emissions, a trend reinforced and accelerated by the spike in the costs of jet fuel last year, no longer a cause of change. While some airlines have taken responsibility, the industry has preferred to isolate itself from any pressure to improve its performance by placing the responsibility on the consumer to purchase carbon off sets, an approach recently criticised by Friends of the Earth as a “dangerous distraction”. Emissions trading is similar to off-setting, it would allow business as usual for the airlines unless a cap significantly below current emission levels was imposed. That is unlikely. It will not generate the funds required for adaptation.

The challenge is to find and deploy a mechanism which can be introduced globally, which provides a level playing field and which is cheap and efficient to operate, which places effective pressure on the airlines to reduce their carbon emissions by flying more fuel efficient planes, improving their operating procedures and load factors; and which meets the full costs of the floods, famine and disease caused by their carbon pollution and ensures, through hypothecation, that those affected are helped to adapt. This proposal would hypothecate tax raised from those able to afford to fly, whether in the developed or developing world, for business or for leisure, to assist those bearing the brunt of climate change. The polluter, the airline, pays. Those who take responsibility and achieve greater efficiencies, reducing their carbon pollution, would pay less; such a tax would push the airlines to move out of denial, and to reduce their emissions. No passenger tax can achieve that.

It is the relatively wealthy in the developed and developing worlds that fly; their flying imposes costs on others. Those costs should be met in full by those who fly and the proceeds should be hypothecated to establish a Global Adaptation Fund to benefit those areas of the world most seriously impacted by climate change.

A global tax on aviation based on fuel purchases and the DEFRA shadow price of carbon at £27 per ton could raise £16bn for adaptation and this would transfer wealth from the relative wealthy to the poor affected by climate change. This would cost an average of between £7 and £8 extra per passenger per flight and if airlines were taxed on the basis of fuel consumed at the end of a quarterly accounting period they would be incentivised to increase their fuel efficiency per revenue passenger mile.

Consumers have rightly been wary of carbon offsetting. However, when offered the opportunity to choose a carbon efficient airline a commercial carbon friendly flight calculator which enables them to identify the greenest and cheapest 57% of them chose that option, paying an average premium of 19% over the cheapest flights.

Consumers have demonstrated that they are willing to take responsibility. The British Government could provide international leadership, announce a new strategy to raise significant funds for adaptation and work through the International Civil Aviation Organisation to have a proposal on the table for Copenhagen.

Professor Harold Goodwin
International Centre for Responsible Tourism
Leeds Metropolitan University

Dear friends,

The global wake-up is here – make a phone-call now to the government number in this email, find an event near you if there’s time, or just share images and experiences of this amazing day with others on our hub page:

Scroll down to find your government’s phone number, or check out the Global Wake-Up Call live online

The global climate wake-up call is here! Now all of us can get involved from home — by making a phone-call to our own governments, or following this extraordinary day of action as it unfolds around the world — plus, there’s still time to join a local event near you!

The press is reporting that global climate talks are in a shambles and the UN summit on Tuesday is the only hope to revive them. This Monday, we’re flooding media and government office phone lines worldwide with a wake up call for leaders to act — with phone calls being made from over 2000 rallies, marches, meetings and “flashmobs” in public places across the planet, and by hundreds of thousands of us from home.

We’ve sourced government phone numbers for your country, with suggestions about what to say. You find all the information you need about the great Global Wake-Up Call events and phone-calls on the hub page at the link below, including photos, video and a liveblog for us to share our experiences of the day — make a phone-call from home or work and tell us how it went at this link, or find an event near you to attend:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/sept21_hub/

Here are the numbers to call in your country (Please start calling after 12.18pm Monday local time):

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
(+44) 020 8144 7459 / 0300 060 4000

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband
(+44) (0)207 979 7777 / 0300 060 4000

Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband
(+44) (0)20 7008 1500

First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills Peter Mandelson
(+44) (0)20 7215 5000 or (0)20 7215 6740 (Minicom)

If you don’t see any phone numbers here, or want to find different contact information, click on the link above.

Make at least one call, and if you don’t get through, it’s probably because we’re jamming the phone-lines and it’s working — so just keep trying throughout the day, or switch to another number!

We suggest you say you’re calling as part of an international action called the Global Wake-Up call, asking leaders to commit to go to the Copenhagen climate meeting in December and agree on a global climate deal that is FAIR, AMBITIOUS and BINDING (“FAB”), and ask them to register your call and convey the message to the decision-maker.

Once you’ve made your call, visit the Wake-Up Hub at this link and post a short update on how it went in the live-blog on the [right] of the page — you can also check out other people’s experiences there, and see photos and video from the wake-up call events as they are posted:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/sept21_hub/

If you’d like to join a wake-up call event or flashmob in a public place near you, there may still be time — click the link above and then click on the global map to find events wherever we are.

In recent weeks, we’ve stunned national governments, heads of state and political parties with sudden barrages of thousands of calls. These phonecalls tie up staff and shut down phone lines — but they are never missed, and time after time, we’re finding, they work. 14,000 calls reversed the Brazilian President’s position on a new climate protection law, 3,000 calls persuaded the German Chancellor’s party to engage with climate groups, just a few hundred calls got the attention of top advisors to French President Sarkozy.

We have just 78 days left until the final UN meeting in Copenhagen, where we’ll succeed or fail to get an historic global treaty to place binding global limits on carbon pollution, stop a climate catastrophe and unleash a new clean and green economy. Our leaders are nowhere near success, they’re not even planning on going to Copenhagen.

Let’s send them a wake up call they won’t forget. Use your phone now, and let’s share our worldwide experiences of this day on the hub page:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/sept21_hub/

With hope and determination,

Brett, Paul, Iain, Graziela, Ricken, Alice, Ben, Paula, Pascal, Luis, Benji, and the rest of the Avaaz team

The discussions about aviation emissions are ‘hotting up’ as negotiations begin ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. The aviation industry is under increasing pressure to step up and make its contribution to the essential reductions in global emissions. The G8 in July pressed the aviation sector to make their contribution outside of the national carbon account targets.

The aviation industry is the “first global industry to commit to a carbon-neutral growth target by 2020”. Yet the strategy for achieving this seems to be based on the vain hope for some magic, non-polluting fuel. Neither International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), nor International Air Transport Association (IATA) can be held accountable for achieving this target. It is little more than wishful thinking, and is technically irresponsible – the industry cannot be held to account for failing to achieve this target. It is difficult to trust in its implementation when there is no mechanism in place to assure progress.
Irresponsibility

This is not to argue that all airlines are irresponsible – some airlines are taking quite radical steps to reduce their carbon impact per passenger mile flown. They are saving money by increasing fuel efficiency per passenger mile, and the increase in fuel prices have doubtless contributed to driving progress.

This pressure has reduced significantly as fuel costs have fallen in the recession, but the recession has also reduced the number of planes flying, and made a significant contribution to the reduction in aircraft flying and polluting our atmosphere . The NATS, the air traffic controllers, has its own target and a coherent plan to achieve reductions en route, in holding and at airports. Its menu cards are technically specific and some of the plans are SMART.

A responsible strategy

Aviation is not currently being dealt with in the Kyoto system. A responsible aviation pollution reduction strategy requires that the stakeholders, particularly those who operate and manage the industry, adopt an approach similar to that of NATS – one that is specific and credible in its requirements.

Any credible response to the scale of the challenge confronting our species requires an agreed baseline for carbon emissions, a clear auditable target for reduction with interim objectives and a credible global plan for mitigation. The aviation industry has been behaving as though it expected to secure a continuation of its exempt status – this now looks much less likely. It is time to press hard for the aviation sector to be held to account, to take its responsibilities seriously.

In June the ICAO, the UN specialist agency charged with addressing the reduction of aviation emissions, recommended a 2% annual increase in fuel efficiency through to 2050. Confusingly, this is expressed as a goal through to 2012, a recommendation 2012 to 2020 and an aspirational goal for 2021to 2050. It is hard to believe that they expect this to be achieved: until the onset of the recession, the average annual rate of increase in aviation has been 4.5% a year.  So far the recession* has contributed more than ICAO or IATA to the reduction in emissions.

There are however reasons for optimism.

CO2 is seen in the US as a public health hazard

There are signs, at last, of progress in the USA. In March 2009 the US Environment Protection Agency sent an ‘endangerment finding’ to Obama in the White House stating that it has determined that CO2 poses a hazard to US citizens and seeking authority to regulate and limit CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act. This will treat carbon as a pollutant and a public health hazard.

In the House of Representatives a Clean Energy and Security Act (the Waxman-Markey Bill) has been introduced which may result in US airlines having to pay a domestic carbon tax, through a cap-and-trade program applicable to jet fuel. The Bill passed the House of Representatives at the end of June, and, as it stands, has annual reduction targets for national carbon emissions – requiring a 17% reduction on 2005 levels by 2020.

Carbon offsetting is increasingly discredited

Carbon offsetting has been heavily criticised – most recently by Friends of the Earth – as a dangerous distraction. It allows the purchase of permits to pollute – like medieval pardons – designed to perpetuate behaviour that damages our environment.

The United States Government Audit Office in 2008 cautioned that “it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions” Many carbon offset products share the characteristics of toxic debt: as the Friends of the Earth report makes clear, offsets are for sale and have been purchased which do not deliver what the purchaser expects, and some have received very adverse publicity in the press . Offsetting delays us reducing the burning of fossil fuels and securing greater efficiency by the polluter. As a strategy, it is preferred because it is cheaper, and is a dangerous distraction from solutions which address the volume of flying and push airlines and aircraft producers to increase their carbon efficiency of flying. These would tackle pollution at source.

Why is cap-and-trade the preferred option for airlines?

Currently, aviation will be brought with the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Airlines will be allocated emissions permits, which they can sell if they have a surplus or buy elsewhere (from within the sector or from other sectors). This has the attraction for the industry that emissions can be maintained and the airline can go on flying – effectively, it is buying a permit to continue polluting, and requires no meaningful change in behaviour.

Carbon offsets are available at a range of very different prices; yet the cost of carbon offsetting is way below the UK government’s 2009 shadow price of carbon at £26.50 per tonne.  Airlines are also aware that where quotas are set by governments they are likely to be generous, making the scheme doubly attractive. The caps are very vulnerable to lobbying pressure by industry reminding governments of the national importance of the aviation sector; fishing quotas are a prime example of this sort of regulation in action.

Air passenger duty

This not a green tax in any acceptable sense. There are two principal ways a tax can be ‘green’. Firstly, it can encourage producers reduce the amount of pollution they cause. Secondly, the revenues can be hypothecated (specifically reserved) for projects promoting adaptation to a low-carbon economy or that mitigate the harmful effects of flying. APD achieves neither of these objectives. It raises revenue for general government expenditure (much of which may well be carbon heavy) and offers no incentive for an airline to become more carbon efficient: the passenger pays the same tax regardless of the carbon efficiency of the airline. Furthermore, because it is a national scheme, UK airlines and airports and destinations – for example the Caribbean – are disadvantaged. The APD distorts competition and fails to create any incentive for airlines to become more carbon efficient. We need something better.

Climate change and developmentDeveloping countries are becoming more assertive about the need to generate substantial resources to help them adapt to climate change – which has most impact in the developing world. The 50 least-developed countries have tabled, for discussion in Copenhagen, a proposal that an aviation levy should be introduced to fund adaptation measures in the world’s poorest and most heavily impacted countries. The Maldives, meanwhile, has proposed a flat-rate levy.

Many of the world’s least-developed countries are dependent on tourism; small-island developing countries have few economic opportunities in the global economy. In the Caribbean, changing tastes and agricultural policy in developed countries have undermined the tobacco, sugar and rum industries. Tourism is often the industry of last resort rather than of choice. APD, which levies disproportionate charges on Caribbean nations is a particularly damaging tax that will penalise their development; once again the Caribbean will suffer at the hands of the colonial power.

In May, the Global Humanitarian Forum published its: ‘Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis’. The report estimates that climate change today accounts for over 300,000 deaths throughout the world each year, the equivalent of 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami every single year. By 2030, the annual death toll from climate change is forecast to reach half a million people a year. This is a major humanitarian crisis. In June, Gordon Brown suggested that climate change adaptation funding should begin in 2013, and that the scale of resources required by 2020 was $100bn per annum. Resourcing on this scale clearly requires a dedicated fund.

A responsible strategy would incentivise mitigation and fund adaptationA tiny fragment of the world’s population flies each year; some estimates are as low as 2%. In the UK it is more than half the population but in the UK, as at the global level, it is the wealthy that fly and the poor who suffer the worst consequences of climate change.

A responsible strategy would ensure that the polluters pay: that the least carbon-efficient airlines would pay the most tax. A carbon tax on fuel would promote a reduction in consumption and the proceeds could be used to compensate those who have been most adversely affected by pollution – the world’s poor living in the lest developed countries who are already being affected by changes in climate and the increased frequency of extreme weather events.

The incentives created by the tax would work in a straight line to encourage airlines to fly in a more carbon-efficient way  and to reduce pollution. Passengers, meanwhile, would be encouraged to choose other forms of short-haul travel and, when flying, the most carbon efficient seats.

A carbon tax on fuel would raise very significant sums of money to fund the adaptation essential to ensure that climate change does not exacerbate poverty and premature death. And, given that aviation emissions cause climate change globally, the revenues from taxation designed to mitigate climate change should be disbursed by the UN or a similar agency for mitigation in those areas worst affected globally.

Travellers – what we can do

Travellers and holidaymakers need to be encouraged to think about their impacts and encouraged to reduce them. This is the approach of the FlySmart campaign. Fly less, reduce your air miles, and, if you decide to fly, choose the most carbon-efficient way to reduce the pollution you cause. Fly direct; fly on planes which are full; fly economy rather than business; consider taking a charter flight; reduce your luggage.

The pioneering Carbon Friendly Flight Finder – accessible from www.flysmart.org – has now been used by over 10,000 consumers. 57% of those consumers chose the greenest and cheapest over the cheapest, paying an average premium of 19% over the lowest cost/higher carbon options. This is proof that, given a credible choice, many consumers are willing to take responsibility and buy a greener option. 45% of air journeys in Europe are less than 500km, and better rail services at affordable prices would be quicker and more convenient; business people and the relatively wealthy take the train from the heart of London to the heart of Paris or Brussels, the less affluent suffer Heathrow or Gatwick.

Assuaging guilt by buying a carbon offset does nothing to pressure the airlines to offer more carbon efficient flights. Consumers should FlySmart and if they need to assuage their guilt, they should find a carbon philanthropy initiative – one which is charitable and attracts gift aid, and which is designed to help those worst affected by climate change to adapt.

The task for governments

It is the responsibility of governments formulate a coherent policy to climate change – to link mitigation and adaptation – and ensure that taxation does not distort competition. Most radically, they must shape policy to encourage a reduction in the rate of growth of flying, and to reward more carbon-efficient flight.

Governments need to work with airports and the air traffic controllers to make the skies more efficient, to reduce holding and to increase public transport to and from airports.

Government should be setting an example by using the most carbon efficient flights and flying less – and they should not be endorsing offsetting

AirlinesAirlines should shoulder their responsibility, and make their flights more carbon efficient for every passenger mile flown. They must stop passing the buck to the passenger. Indeed, airlines should be competing to be more carbon efficient: this has the potential to be a real competitive advantage in a tough market. Many airlines are already doing a great deal but they could do more, and they should be telling the consumers what they have achieved – for example, by labelling seats so that passengers are informed about the level of pollution their individual flight in a particular seat is causing.

There is an aviation forum at http://tiny.cc/rtp254 where you could reply to this post or contribute to the discussion about aircraft pollution and responsibility.

Harold Goodwin International Centre for Responsible Tourism

* NATS is reporting that June 2009 was the 12th consecutive month in which the number of flights in UK airspace fell, and that the number fell by 10.5% in June. Transatlantic departures and arrivals were down 14% year on year compared with a reduction of 9.9% for domestic flights. The recession in the airline industry is deep and if the industry could persuade us that the sensible baseline is 2012, when the it may be at the bottom of the trough, that would make achieving any target a good deal easier than using 2008.

“Commercial aviation is the first global industry to commit to a carbon-neutral growth target by 2020”. Magic but who carries responsibility if the targets are missed?

On 9th July the Major Economies Forum of 16 developed and developing nations issued a declaration at the G8 summit recognising the scientific view that the increase in the average global temperature should not exceed 2°C and accepted that some adverse effects of climate change were already taking place.

Leaders at the G8 summit called for more to be done by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN agency responsible for civil aviation. The G8 leaders require the airline sector to make their contribution to the international target as a sector – outside of the national carbon pollution accounts.

Bisignani, DG of IATA, welcomed this, saying: “Commercial aviation is the first global industry to commit to a carbon-neutral growth target by 2020”. Time will tell whether carbon neutral growth can be achieved by 2020 – but there are no penalties if the targets are not achieved.

Bisignani has repeated the targets which the commercial aviation industry has set for itself.
•    2009 to 2020 1.5% average annual improvement in fuel efficiency over 11 years – around 17% fuel efficiency improvement by 2020  [- in other words by 2020 there could have been a 17% increase in air miles flown at steady emissions or carbon pollution could be reduced by 17% assuming no increase in air miles flown.]
•    Then from 2020 carbon neutral growth – any increase in air miles would be matched by increased fuel efficiency
•    And by 2050 a 50% absolute reduction in aviation emissions on 2005 emissions.

This would be magic. Who carries responsibility if the targets are missed?

The recession has made a major contribution this year – aviation’s carbon pollution is expected to fall by 7% in 2009 – IATA expects the recession to contribute 5% of the 7%  reduction in 2009 – just 2% is down to increased efficiency.

Bisignani pointed out that aviation’s long-term success on climate change will require governments to play their role: investing in more efficient infrastructure, support for biofuels development and “an appropriate fiscal and legal framework”, Bisignani welcomed the opportunity to work with ICAO to “replace the developing patchwork of environmental taxes and charges with a coordinated approach that does not distort competition, credits airlines for every cent that they pay and ensures that they pay only one”

The British government is still backing off setting; we are apparently buying carbon credits to offset the aviation emissions caused by the UK’s delegation flying to the UN conference on climate change in Montreal. The money will be used to benefit communities in the Kuyasa township in South Africa, paying for the installation of solar water heaters, ceiling insulation and compact fluorescent lights. Elliot Morley a Minister in DEFRA has encouraged holidaymakers to donate to voluntary carbon offsetting schemes.

As worthwhile as some of these initiatives may be they will do nothing to encourage the change required to achieve the ambition of the G8’s targets – medieval pardons purchased as carbon offsets cannot achieve the change required.

There is an aviation forum at http://tiny.cc/rtp254 where you could reply to this post or contribute to the discussion about aircraft pollution and responsibility.

One month ago today the Global Humanitarian Forum published the ‘Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis’ The report has received shamefully little attention.

This is the first report to focus on the human impact of climate change. The report calculates that more than 300 million people are seriously affected by climate change at a total economic cost of $125 billion per year.

The report estimates that climate change today accounts for over 300,000 deaths throughout the world each year, the equivalent of an Indian Ocean Tsunami every single year. By 2030, the annual death toll from climate change will reach half a million people a year.

In launching the report a month ago Kofi Annan said
“Climate change is a silent human crisis. Yet it is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time. Already today, it causes suffering to hundreds of millions of people most of whom are not even aware that they are victims of climate change. We need an international agreement to contain climate change and reduce its widespread suffering.”

This report and the Global Humanity Forum website provide a voice for the those already suffering the ravages of global warming – this is not some distant and indeterminate threat. It is hear now, killing and impoverishing people.

This is man-made crisis.

As Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam GB and Global Humanitarian Forum Board Member said at its launch
“Climate change is a human crisis which threatens to overwhelm the humanitarian system and turn back the clock on development. It is also a gross injustice – poor people in developing countries bear over 90% of the burden – through death, disease, destitution and financial loss – yet are least responsible for creating the problem. Despite this, funding from rich countries to help the poor and vulnerable adapt to climate change is not even 1 percent of what is needed. This glaring injustice must be addressed at Copenhagen in December”

Read the report, tell others about it – hear the voice of the victims.

Climate Impact Witnesses Speak

A year ago Hugo Kimber of the Carbon Consultancy, one of our ICRT associates, and I were arguing over coffee about whether carbon offsetting had contributed to raising consciousness about the pollution caused by flying, or whether it had done little more than convince people that for a small additional cost they could buy an offset and forget about it. My view is that carbon offsets are like medieval pardons purchased from the church – they do little good in the world. The voluntary take up for carbon offsets remains very low – less than 10% which demonstrates that travellers are bright.

I suspect that the majority of travellers, the potential purchasers, are unconvinced by the carbon offset product. There are three fundamental problems which undermine consumer confidence

1.    the polluting effect of the flight is immediate but the carbon offset does nothing to reduce the pollution caused by the traveller’s flight AND it puts no pressure on the airline to reduce its pollution.
2.    many of the offsets in the market place lack credibility, they are uncertain and they are provided by for profit companies often with high transaction costs.
3.     if a traveller uses more than one carbon calculator they begin to see the problem – carbon offsets are available at a range of very different prices, the cost of carbon offsetting is way below the UK government’s shadow price of carbon at £26.50 per tonne in 2009.

Hugo and I agreed that we need to convince people to flysmart – instead of flying dumb. To flysmart travellers would need to

1.   flyless and prefer the train over a plane
2.   fly direct and fly with the most carbon efficient airlines – by choosing to fly with those airlines making the biggest efforts to be reduce the pollution they cause.  The traveller achieves two things
a.    the traveller encourages the good guys; and
b.    causes less pollution by their own flying
3.    Travellers should also make a charitable contribution to assist others to mitigate or adapt as they deal with climate change. Carbon Philanthropy, with gift aid, rather than carbon offsetting.

To test the idea of flysmart we needed to be able to provide travellers with a flight search engine which would enable them to choose the cheapest greenest option. Hugo persuaded Global Travel Market to create the Carbon Friendly Flight Search site. Go online and try it out, or download the screen print of choices for London to Rome  The engine enables travellers to choose to fly with the most carbon efficient carrier based on the fleet – with more accurate data on particular routes and loadings the tool would be even more effective but we have used the best available data sets.

Over the last few months 57% of users of the Carbon Friendly Flight Search have paid a premium, averaging 19%, over the cheapest flight offered by selecting to book the cheapest and greenest flight offered. Over 10,000 flight searches have been made on the site.

This demonstrates that if mainstream search engines offer a choice a majority of consumers will choose a more responsible flight.

As Justin Francis of responsibletravel.com adds
“Surveys have consistently shown that people say they would pay more for more environmentally friendly travel products. The travel industry response has generally been ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they.’ For the first time with this data we see the proof. In the future more and more people will choose their flight based on not just price and convenience, but on their carbon emissions. The message to the airlines is clear; carbon becomes an area for competitive advantage.”

Is there any valid reason why all search engines should not offer the consumer the opportunity to make a more responsible, greener choice?

We have demonstrated that there is demand for it.

For a copy of the press release

The science is clear – there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. We can only control those greenhouse gases which we as a species are causing to be emitted into our atmosphere in ever larger volumes. This pollution is causing climate change which is already having serious negative impacts on the environment, the food security and the livelihoods of our fellow human beings.

The principle that pollution should be controlled and that the polluter should pay to avoid causing pollution by capturing and dealing with pollution at source was established in the nineteenth century. We do not accept that asbestos, sulphides (which cause acid rain) or chemical effluent can be discharged into our environment without let or hindrance in return for preserving freshwater in Canada. Green house gases are pollutants like any other; they poison our environment and make it less habitable for ourselves and other species.

The purchasing of carbon offsets is a dangerous distraction, the purchase of medieval pardons, permits to continue to pollute, would not be accepted for asbestos, sulphides or chemical effluent. They should not be accepted for carbon pollution – a form of pollution which threatens far more disastrous consequence for our species and our environment.  – offsetting has become the Trojan Horse of anti-pollution strategies for greenhouse gases.

Friends of the Earth have just produced a damming report on carbon offsetting.
Carbon Offsetting – a dangerous distraction

1.    The scientists say that we need to curb global greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40% in developed countries and 15-30% in developing countries. Offsetting undermines this.  Action is required in both developed and developing countries – we cannot solve our problem by paying others to do it for us, the developing world is struggling to make its own cuts.
2.    Many of the initiatives which carbon offsets are used to pay for to cut carbon emissions would have happened anyway.
3.    Carbon offsets rarely guarantee emissions cuts and Friends of the Earth demonstrate that they often exaggerate the amount they will cut. The United States Government Audit Office in 2008 cautioned that “it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable, and long-term reduction in emissions”[p.16]. Many carbon offset products share the characteristics of toxic debt.
4.    Offsetting delays the tackling of carbon pollution by reducing the burning of fossil fuels and securing greater efficiency – offsetting is preferred because it is cheaper. Offsetting was introduced in the closing hours of the Kyoto negotiations in 1997 to give developed countries some flexibility in meeting their targets. In the EU more than 50% of the cuts expected by 2020 are permitted to come from offsetting – offsetting has become the Trojan Hose of anti-pollution strategies for greenhouse gases.
5.    Financing interventions to reduce emissions in developing countries encourages them, through subsidies, to develop new infrastructure which is highly polluting so as to create opportunities to clean up this pollution using tried and tested existing technology. So the process encourages them to adopt known polluting technologies so that the cleaning up of the emission from those processes can be used to offset emissions in developed countries. This is effectively subsidising the development of carbon polluting plants in the developing world – incredible? [§4.5 of the Friends of the Earth Report]

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – it is time to move on from carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting is part of the problem not part of the solution.

This is not to argue that all carbon offset projects are unworthy, some do assist people to adapt to the consequences of climate change and those of us who contribute to climate change have a responsibly to assist those adversely affected to adapt . Our responsibility is to mitigate by flying less and more carbon efficiently and then to fund adaptation, see Flysmart.