Air Travel and the Environment Term Paper

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Other aircrafts in the category of A380, produced in the last few years, included the A350, Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and the other 747's. GKN and other similarly-motivated companies have been focused on reducing harmful acoustic emissions of aircraft jet engines (Hilpern).

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed the report made by economist Sir Nicholas Stern on October 30, 2006 about the global economy shrinking by 20% because of global warming (BBC News 2007). In his 700-page study, Stern said, however, that taking appropriate measures now would incur only 1% of the world's gross domestic product. Prime Minister Blair used the scientific evidence on global warming from Stern's report to describe the phenomenon as "overwhelming" and its consequences as "disastrous." At about the same time, the United Nations released information on the rising volume of emissions of greenhouse gases, which would affect rich countries more. Among the most immediate responses were recommendations for raising flying taxes for both passengers and cargo. Environment Secretary David Miliband also said that the Queen would include a climate bill in her speech and the formation of an independent Carbon Committee. The Committee would coordinate with the government in the task of reducing emissions (BBC News).

Stern reported that, without action, up to 200 million people in the world could become refugees right in their own homes as a result of drought or flood (BBC News 2007). He, however, said that, at the present capability levels, science and technology could offset this imminent disaster if appropriate international action would be taken immediately. He explained that it could be expected not in some indefinite future time but in our lifetime if inappropriately and promptly addressed. He said that all the savings and investment made towards this goal would be well worth it but we could not wait for another five years. A former chief economist at the World Bank, Stern stressed that the magnitude of the risks was alarmingly large, considering the investments made and the consumption patterns today. He clarified that the lack of concerted, immediate and appropriate action could produce grim global consequences. These could be in the forms of floods from rising sea levels, which could displace up to 100 million people. Melting glaciers could cut down water supply for 1 in every 6 persons in the world population. At its worst, 40% of wildlife would be wiped out and become extinct. And hundreds of millions of "climate refugees" could turn up because of droughts. Stern published his report as an economist and it is considered the first major contribution on the problem of global warming. Mr. Gordon Brown, who commissioned Stern's report, had called for a long-term structure of a worldwide carbon market, which could help establish "a low-carbon global economy." His goals were to reduce emissions in Europe by 30% by the year 2020 or, at least 60% by 2050; to establish an independent environmental body to work with the government; to set up trade links with Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica so as to insure sustainable forestry; and cooperate with China for the production of clean coal technologies. Pia Hansen of the European Commission said that climate change was not a problem, which Europe could simply file away as a formidable or unsolvable problem. She did not see the world as having an option to wait and see because it called for the right and concerted action right now from all the people of the world (BBC News).

Promptly following the publication of Stern's report, Environment Secretary David Miliband proposed an increase of duty on gas-guzzling cars, VAT on air travel and an tax increase on petrol to compensate for price falls (Lean 2006). While 85% of Britons acknowledged the reality of the problem of climate change, polls said that two-thirds believed that the government was using it just to raise revenue. Other observers were in agreement that Britain needed green taxes. These would transfer the tax burden to give companies more incentive to cut electric use instead of labor. A UK study showed that this would create at least 2.7 million jobs while reducing the incidence of global warming. The Dutch demonstrated how green taxes could be utilized so that the poor could benefit by providing cheap energy for basic needs while charging for buying luxury items. In his campaign, Gordon Brown promised this and eventually cut national insurance contributions to offset the climate change levy on industry (Lean).

Other responsive measures have emerged. One of these was emission trading, which provides a pollution allowance to companies. Environment Secretary Miliband considered imposing the measure on individuals. But his real test would be cutting down emissions of greenhouse gases through any means. At present, ministers seem to fail in the task (Lean).

Airline owners would be called to an emergency summit to answer for the growing impact of their aircraft on the change in the world's climate (Lean 2000). Overwhelming evidence has shown that international air travel is not only the fastest-growing but also the most polluting form of transportation. It was ironic that world governments exempted it from a treaty to control global warming. American scientists reported that the ozone area above the Antarctic was thinning thrice as big as the U.S. because of polluting chemicals emitted into the stratosphere mainly by high-flying aircraft (Lean).

Records showed that air travel doubled every eight years since 1960 at 2 1/2 times faster than the economy (Lean 2000). The problem was that airplanes emit more carbon dioxide in the earth's skies than all the automobiles, homes, offices and factories in England alone put together. The emissions were predicted to have trebled between 1990 and 2015 and would defeat efforts to cut pollution in other areas of the world. Yet aviation fuel was exempted from taxes because of its yearly potentials for direct and indirect subsides in Europe alone. While countries pledged to control pollution from their respective domestic flights under the Kyoto Protocol, the more serious issue of global warming from international aviation was excluded. Britain suggested a worldwide tax on air fuel. But the European Commission quashed the suggestion and decided that the tax would neither be practical nor desirable for European airlines. The airline industry rejected the notion of a tax yet pressed for a voluntary agreement to reduce emissions. Environmentalists even then thought that the industry would never voluntarily control itself and other critics and observers agreed.

Few voluntary agreements across the world have achieved truly responsive environmental goals because they lacked a legally workable compliance mechanism (Lean 2000). This could explain why the chances of the world's implementing controls on aircraft emissions then appeared alarmingly small. Voluntary agreements agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from international travel by 5.2% between 2008 and 2012, such as under the Kyoto Protocol. Every signatory country would be allotted a certain amount of emissions within the target. This action was not expected to reduce air travel but only to motivate airlines to develop cleaner technologies (Lean). This would not be the solution to the gnawing and imminent global catastrophe.


BBC News (2007). Climate change fight "can't wait." 6 web pages. British Broadcasting Corporation

Hilpern, K (2005). Flying towards a greener future. 4 pages. The (London) Independent: Independent Newspapers UK Limited

Lean, G. (2006). Green taxes don't have to be a punishment. 2 pages. The Independent on Sunday: Independent Newspapers UK Limited

2000). Airlines called to…

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