The Flight to Taxes

plane3.jpgArthur Clarke has said – This is the first age that’s ever paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we might not have one.

And this in a nutshell encapsulates the grave situation that confronts all of us as global citizens today.

However endlessly we debate on climate change, the fact of the matter is that climate change is very much present and it won’t do to brush it under the carpet because time is running out.

The question we must ask is whether a carbon tax on air passengers is a feasible solution to the wretched problem of climate change. And why not? It cannot be the only solution, but it can surely be one of them.

This is because, firstly the aviation sector is growing at an unsustainable rate and air traffic is forecast to almost double in the next 15 years. The question we must ask ourselves is whether the political and environmental consequences of such an expansion are feasible or even acceptable? More significantly, climate scientists have concluded that improvements in aircraft and engine technology and in air traffic management will not offset the projected growth in aircraft emissions. That means that, in order to reduce the growth in aircraft greenhouse gas emissions, we will have to slow the growth of air travel which has boomed in the recent past because of the popularity of low cost leisure travel. The question begged to be asked is that of the sustainability of our current love for low cost air travel, given the fact that it is effectively subsidized with no fuel tax and no environmental costs.

Air travel is also environmentally damaging. Aircrafts emit gases and particles directly into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. These gases alter the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane and also trigger formation of condensation trails which contribute to climate change. According to the IPCC aviation currently accounts for just over 3.5% of total emissions today, but by 2050, emissions from aircraft could contribute up to 15% to the overall global warming produced by human activities. Inaction is not an option. And while the general public may not like more expensive flights, they’re going to like the very real consequences of climate change even less including more extreme weather events, spread of infectious diseases, disappearing countries and the increasing plight of environmental refugees.

Some might say that other modes of transport like rail or road transport are also polluting. Of course they are, but in terms of contribution to Global Warming, aviation is in a class of its own. Studies show that air travel produces far more CO2 emissions per passenger than rail.

Aviation is under the spot light because it is perceived as both a major polluter, and a sector that doesn’t pay its share of taxes. An aviation fuel tax, if it were passed on to consumers, would encourage the development and use of more efficient aircraft by taxing fuel consumption and would act as an incentive for airlines to invest in more efficient aircraft.

The debate is not about how small or insignificant a step might be, but about what can be done and how quickly it can be done. Certainly these measures need to be accompanied by other measures such as emission trading and air traffic control, but immediate action is imperative.

Climate change is about the security, liberty and prosperity of the human race. It is about the human rights of our children and grandchildren to live in a habitable planet.