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					Eco tourism

Save the planet... stay on the ground
Can you still call yourself green at 30,000 feet? Frankly, no. Air travel is choking
our world faster than any other form of transport, writes Joanna Walters

Sunday May 12, 2002
The Observer

So you recycle your newspapers and carrier bags, take buses and trains wherever possible and
harangue the authorities to switch to wind power. You're green, you care about the environment...
and you are furious that we're melting the planet while George Bush thinks that Kyoto should
stick to being a tourist destination.

And then you blow it all by jumping on that cheap flight to Thailand or America.

You've just used up all your 'carbon credits', or environmental Brownie points, in one go. The
average jet pumps around a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every passenger it
carries from London to New York. One return flight to, say, Miami, and you're responsible for
more carbon dioxide production than a year's motoring.

Air transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions but has so far sparked
relatively little concern among governments and international bodies. When the Earth Summit
convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, aviation was barely an issue for those gathering to 'save the

Ten years later, the issue can no longer be avoided. It will certainly be on the agenda at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development - dubbed Rio Plus Ten - in Johannesburg this
August. Once the world's leaders and every green organisation on the globe has flown in and
stepped from their aluminium tubes, they will be forced to reflect on the question: can we carry on
shrinking the world without melting the planet?

More immediately, the World Ecotourism Summit opens in Quebec next Sunday in what has been
declared the International Year of Ecotourism. Travel industry leaders will argue the toss on
whether 'eco' and 'tourism' can ever live happily together, but there will be shockingly little debate
on whether there is any point in having the greenest of green eco-resorts in deepest Peru if all the
wealthy, sandalled 'ecotourists' each burn six tonnes of carbon dioxide getting there and back.

Eugenio Yunis, the World Tourism Organisation's director of sustainable development, admits
that his organisation is only now beginning a study on the environmental impact of air travel. It
expects to come up with some answers by Jo'berg but will not be focusing on the topic in

Yunis is strident in his defence of people's insatiable appetite to fly the world. 'The important point
is people's desire for mobility. The expansion of tourism demand is something that cannot be
controlled - we live in a free society and the solution is not to stop people travelling or price them
out of the sky with taxes. So we have to make these trips as least damaging as possible.'

Like many proponents of the freedom to fly wherever we want whenever we want, Yunis talks
about the jets of the future being run on hydrogen and the airlines investing billions in newer,
more efficient aircraft. But the prospect of viable alternatives to kerosene as the normal aviation
fuel is probably 50 years away. And the fact that the world's aircraft fleet has doubled its fuel
efficiency over the past 30 years does not make up for the fact that global air traffic has
quadrupled since 1970, from 350 billion passenger miles a year to 1,500 billion passenger miles a

This is forecast to more than double by 2015 and double or even triple again by 2050. Where on
earth are we going to put all those runways, planes and greenhouse gases?

You could ponder on it, perhaps, as you go round and round in the holding 'stack', waiting to land
late (again) at Heathrow. This is the kind of air traffic control delay that forces British Airways
alone to burn 100,000 extra tonnes of fuel per year. Despite such delays, it has never been easier
or cheaper to fly. The slump in air travel after the terrorist attacks of 11 September was just a blip,
and traffic is recovering faster than expected.

The general trend in recent years has been boom, boom, boom. Long-haul charters, bargain
offers from scheduled airlines, and jets that can fly ever further without refuelling have almost put
Bangkok into the weekend break league and made Down Under feel like a hop, skip and jump
from Heathrow or Manchester.

Air fares have fallen by 40 per cent in real terms in the past 25 years. And in Britain the
mushrooming of the low-cost airlines in the past five years has caught the public's imagination,
with flights sometimes for under a tenner on the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet. Why take a coach
to Skegness when you can fly to Dublin or Barcelona for less?

People who had never flown before took to the skies. Those who flew regularly started taking off
more often. On business, on holiday, or on a whim. Airports such as Luton and Stansted thought
all their Christmases had come at once, and for the British public, rising prosperity, bargain tickets
and an insatiable appetite for travel all came together in a heady cocktail.

But just as the bonanza is taking off, so the alarm bells start ringing. In the Eighties the car
became the symbol of independence, freedom and personal mobility. Cheap, fun, cool - let's build
more roads.

And where did that get us? Britain's motorists are now going nowhere fast, with the worst
congestion and highest car dependency in Europe. Serious concerns about the effects of road
traffic pollution on human health and global warm ing have shattered the illusion of car as king. Is
the jumbo jet destined to go the same way in the twenty-first century?

It is easy to think of airports as a problem only to the locals who live under the flight path, and of
aircraft as distant spectacles that simply pump out 'a bit of exhaust' a mile up, where no one
needs worry about it.

But environmentalists warn that unless demand is capped, growth in air travel has alarming
implications both for global warming and for the square footage of Tarmac apron and terminal
buildings proliferating across the last vestiges of our green and pleasant land.

Aviation is the source of about 13 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted by transport and
represents two per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions from man-made sources.

The UK environmental lobby group Transport 2000 reports that jet engines give out not only
carbon dioxide but also nitrogen oxides. At cruise altitude, these increase ozone concentrations in
the upper atmosphere, contributing significantly to the greenhouse effect. The vapour trails of tiny
ice particles streaking across the blue yonder from jets at high altitude are not just pretty patterns
in the sky. According to green groups, these also have a greenhouse effect by preventing the
escape of infra-red radiation from the atmosphere.

The Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change report of 1999 forecast a 487 per cent
increase in carbon dioxide emissions from global aviation between 1992 and 2050, with nitrogen
oxides increasing by 312 per cent.

Aviation has the highest growth rate of all modes of transport worldwide, and the number of
passengers passing in and out of UK airports alone is forecast to double from around 200 million
this year to 400 million by 2020.

Around 80 per cent of the world's flying is currently concentrated over Europe and America,
although Asia Pacific is growing fastest.

Friends of the Earth reports that, over short distances of less than 350 miles, air travel produces
around three times more carbon dioxide per passenger than rail. High-speed long-distance
electrified rail is on the up in Europe but there are still more than eight million intra-Europe flights
a year, and more than 25,000 aircraft fly the skies above the UK and the Continent every day.

Ryanair flights from Stansted to Cornwall are the latest fashion - but these would be a lot less
popular if there was a cheap, reliable rail service.

Friends of the Earth's latest report on aviation urges the public to 'fly less, take the train,
investigate teleconferencing instead of business flights and plan more holidays in the UK'. But at
a time when air travel has so enthralled the masses, markets are opening up and economies are
booming, many will see this as killjoy preaching.

Several green groups in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Scandinavia advocate self-
imposed rationing, where people restrict themselves to one or two flights a year. But the Geneva-
based Air Transport Action Group points out that global aviation generates more than £1,000
billion to the global economy annually. It employs four million people directly and a further 24
million indirectly - two thirds of them in Europe and North America.

The World Travel and Tourism Council calls the combined business of travel and tourism the
world's biggest industry, producing 12 per cent of global GDP.

British Airways's Hugh Somerville, head of the airline's sustainable business unit, said: 'If you
want to cut a business deal, you have to be there to eyeball people. If you want to see a friend or
relative or have a cultural experience in another country, you get on a plane. Air travel plays a
critical role in prosperity and world peace. Some of the measures suggested to curb air travel are
regressive. Higher taxes just put prices up and take travel away from people.'

The European Commission and the UK Government declare they are in favour of taxing
kerosene. With the fuel currently exempt, and air tickets not subject to VAT like rail tickets, critics
argue that air travel is unfairly subsidised. But they are bound on kerosene tax by the view of the
global International Civil Aviation Organisation, which consistently blocks the move.

Britain does have a kind of green tax 'by proxy' in the form of the airport departure tax of £5 each
way in economy, £10 for business, on domestic and European flights, and four times that for
long-haul. BA claims the £1.5 billion gathered from this tax by the Treasury every year covers the
environmental costs of aviation - a point the greens dispute.
One source close to European Commission transport policy told Escape: 'Brussels flags up
kerosene tax all the time but they never get anywhere because of the powerful, industry-
influenced ICAO voting it out. The EC is pretty confused on the aviation side. It is trying to remove
air traffic control bottlenecks in the sky to ease congestion pollution and it is liberalising the
market so that more people can travel more cheaply, and that is progressive. But the increased
efficiency and reduced costs boost air travel and therefore pollution.'

Stephen Joseph of Transport 2000 said that while no one wanted to keep air travel as the domain
of the wealthy, the polluter must pay. He recommended sharper increases in tax on business
class travel and argued that individuals cannot be expected to ration their own flying, becoming
martyrs to the environment, while governments themselves are taking such a weak lead on the

He concluded: 'People should think twice before flying halfway round the world to an eco resort.
But unless governments do more to tackle aviation growth and influence the choices people
make about travel in the future, then it will just be a question of... if you don't fly, someone else
will just take your place on the jumbo.'

Global warming: the future

Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun and keeps the earth warm - the natural greenhouse
effect. Burning fossil fuels produces increased carbon dioxide which, along with certain other
man-made emissions, boosts the effect, giving rise to global warming.

Scientists predict that without new curbs, global temperatures will rise by up to 3.5 degrees
celsius this century, causing more hurricanes, floods and droughts. Sea levels will rise by up to
3ft, swamping the Maldives and East Anglia alike.

Britain will take on the climate of Provence in France. That means outdoor olive and orange
groves and wild flamingoes - but also the threat of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and very wet

Others believe, alternatively, that the warming Gulf Stream sea current could shift away from the
UK, chilling our climate to the levels of Nova Scotia.

High anxiety

Global air traffic is set to double by 2015 to 3,400 billion passenger miles annually.

The number of travellers using UK airports is expected to double by 2020 to 400 million a year.

Without curbs, aviation will produce 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2015 - a 159
per cent increase on 1992. Emissions of nitrogen oxides from aircraft will more than double to 4
million tonnes a year.

Air fares have fallen by 40 per cent in real terms in the past 25 years.

The world's planes are twice as fuel-efficient as they were 30 years ago - but the volume of air
travel has quadrupled.

Air travel is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions: the average jet pumps
almost one tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every passenger it carries from
London to New York.
Taxing questions

What if the Government decided to tax aviation fuel and charge VAT on air tickets tomorrow?

'Travellers already face a huge tax in the form of the Airport Passenger Duty, which can
sometimes be totally disproportionate to the fare paid. Any more taxes would discriminate even
further against air travellers.'
Nigel Turner, finance director, bmi British Midland

'It's a holiday tax.'
Hugh Somerville, head of British Airways' sustainable business unit

'We reject the idea of trying to price people out of flying by huge tax increases or by suppressing
capacity in one country through a unilateral fuel tax.'
Barry Humphreys, director of external affairs Virgin Atlantic Airways