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Why fly less?

Climate Change

Aviation already accounts for about 13% of the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions. That is about 6.5% of the actual carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted, though that is somewhat underestimated, as it does not take into account the carbon on return flights to the UK.  

The present rapid growth of air travel, if allowed to grow unchecked, would mean the UK would find it almost impossible to meet its 2050 target for reducing emissions by 100%. 

Friends of the Earth briefing

The 2003 Aviation White paper was the biggest programme of aviation expansion this country has ever seen. The paper set out the Government’s aviation policy until 2030 and expects to see a near trebling in the number of passengers using UK airports. To cater for this, it argued that the country would require up to five new runways, plus ‘full use’ made of the existing runways at virtually all the airports in the country.

Don’t  we need flying for the economy? 

Aviation’s contribution to the economy is less than the aviation industry and the Government suggest. The Government’s estimate of aviation’s contribution to the economy is based on a report largely paid for by the aviation industry. The report, ‘The Contribution of Aviation to the UK Economy’ was carried out by consultants Oxford Economic Forecasting in 1999 with an update in 2006.

However, according to Airport Watch the report ignored the tax -breaks the industry receives through tax-free fuel and being zero-rated for VAT- worth around £9 billion a year. Nor did it factor into its calculations the huge cost aviation imposes on society and the environment, which is estimated to be around £16 billion a year. And is also skated over the point that UK passengers take more money out of the UK on their foreign trips than foreign visitors bring in on their visits. 

There is also a ‘tourism deficit’ in the UK economy – estimated at around £13-20 billion per year over the past decade. This is the difference in spending  (other than on travel tickets) between money spent by visitors to the UK and the money spent by Brits travelling abroad.  Every year, a great deal more is spent by UK residents travelling abroad than by foreign visitors coming here. 

The component of the tourism deficit from trips made by air travel is a large part of it. For instance, in 2010 the air travel component was £12.4 billion of our total tourism deficit (including ship and channel tunnel) of £14.2 billion.  In 2011, the air travel component was $11.2 billion, out of total of £13.1 billion. 

In 2010/11 the exemption from fuel tax and VAT was worth more than £11 billion to the airlines. After deducting APD revenues, the net benefit is around £9 billion- equivalent to a subsidy to the airlines of about £360 per household. The 53% of the UK population who do not fly- mainly the less affluent- find themselves subsidising the aviation industry. 

Who’s flying?

Indeed, the majority of plane trips are made by relatively few people. UK government statistics from a survey in 2014 showed that just 15% of passengers made 70% of all plane trips. (See Friends of the Earth briefing: Aviation and Climate Change: Our position).

Should we offset the carbon emissions?

Airport Watch is not convinced that offsetting schemes are effective. With more people buying carbon offsets to try and compensate for the carbon dioxide produced from their flights, the effectiveness and justification for these offsets is increasingly being questioned. See for example Guardian articles from 16/6/2007, 16/11/2011 and 27/4/2019.

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So what can I do?

There are plenty of options out there to replace travel by air. They may sometimes take a bit longer but that is part of the adventure!

Below is a sample of what is on offer. 

Train travel

Coach travel

Walking and cycling holidays

Sustainable tourism

Carbon counting


Finally, the Guardian provide this useful article on reducing your overall carbon footprint.

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