Air travel hastens climate change

In Sydney airport's crowded international terminal, passengers make last-minute passport checks or fret over toddlers in pushchairs as they wait in the snaking queue to check in for the 23-hour flight to London.

    The glamorous image of air travel is besmirched by pollution

    But few of the 400 passengers crammed on to each jumbo jet

    taking off over Botany Bay ever consider the environmental

    impact of their 17,000km intercontinental trip.


    Passengers will consume at least 1600 meals in plastic

    containers, but each plane travelling to London will guzzle m

    ore than 200 tonnes of jet fuel and pump out more than 500

    tonnes of carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases.


    "Beneath the glamorous high-flying image of aviation is a

    grossly polluting industry," said Paul de Zylva, head of

    Friends of the Earth in London.


    Scientists say jet emissions lead
    to environmental damage

    Environmentalists say airlines rate as one of the most

    polluting forms of transport, with 16,000 commercial jets

    producing over 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.


    Climate change, caused by greenhouse gases such as carbon

    dioxide, is deemed by many experts to be the biggest long-term

    threat to humanity.


    They predict rapidly rising temperatures

    prompting higher sea levels, devastating floods and droughts.


    The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate C

    hange estimates aviation causes 3.5% of man-made global

    warming and that figure could rise to 15% by 2050.


    NASA scientists say condensation trails from jet exhausts

    create cirrus clouds that may trap heat rising from the earth's



    This could account for nearly all the warming over the

    United States between 1975 and 1994.


    Environmental impact


    And air travel is booming.


    Commercial jets now 70% more fuel efficient per

    passenger mile than they were 40 years ago, thanks

    to better engines, lighter materials and aerodynamic designs

    The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the

    body that represents the world's airlines, accepts that

    aircraft cause environmental damage.


    "Every minute we can save in flight times has a positive i

    mpact on the environment and on our costs," said IATA

    spokesman Anthony Concil. 


    Despite the industry's heavy environmental toll, guidelines

    on international aircraft emissions were excluded from the

    Kyoto protocol on climate change and aviation fuel is tax



    Aerospace firms have made huge leaps forward, with

    commercial jets now 70% more fuel efficient per

    passenger mile than they were 40 years ago, thanks

    to better engines, lighter materials and aerodynamic designs.


    And cost-obsessed carriers are continuously searching for

    ways to use capacity better, find more direct flight paths and

    cut congestion in order to trim the hefty fuel bills, which make

    up 25% of airline operating costs.


    Most discount airlines have young, more fuel-efficient

    fleets and newer airlines in regions such as Asia have

    leap-frogged older technologies to buy new planes.


    Low-cost carriers


    Established airlines are being
    challenged by low cost carriers

    Very cheap airfares due to the runaway success of low-cost

    carriers mean thousands more people are now taking to the skies

    for short hops around Europe or the United States, and air

    travel is set to rocket in the fast-growing economies of Asia.


    "It's a Catch-22 situation, many developing countries want

    to promote tourism as a revenue source and a lot of no-frills

    airlines are appearing in Malaysia and other parts of Asia,"

    said Gurmit Singh, executive director of Malaysia's Centre of

    Environment Technology and Development.


    "It's one of the unsustainable forms of development that

    Asian countries are rushing into," Singh said.


    The sheer growth of passenger volumes is likely to negate

    the benefits of future improvements, say environmentalists.


    Simon Thomas, chairman of London-based environmental

    consultancy Trucost, estimates that technological improvements

    help trim emissions by around 1% a year, a drop in the

    ocean when the aviation industry is forecasting 5%

    annual traffic growth for the next two decades.


    "That's an enormous difference. It has the ability to c

    ompletely undermine the Kyoto protocol," said Thomas.


    Curb emissions


    China's air passenger numbers
    will reach 215 million by 2014

    Links between aviation and climate change have attracted

    widespread attention in Europe where environmental groups are

    calling for measures to curb the impact of airline emissions.


    Environmental taxes, airline emissions trading or increased

    investment in high-speed rail networks are the most commonly

    touted methods to wean passengers from air travel.


    But in North America, which makes up 40% of world

    air travel, the issue has yet to make a big public impact and

    the environment remains low on the agenda in developing c

    ountries as they race for economic growth.


    Air travel in China alone, which has the largest number of

    domestic and international scheduled passengers in the

    Asia-Pacific region, is forecast to leap over 200% from

    nearly 67 million in 1999 to around 215 million in 2014.


    The aviation industry opposes any new green taxes, saying

    many airlines are still in recovery mode. The world's carriers

    lost some $30 billion in the years since the 11 September 2001

    attacks on the United States.


    The world's carriers lost about $30 billion in the years since the 11 September 2001

    attacks on the United States

    nstead of curbing damaging emissions, new levies would

    only bump up fares and damage low-cost carriers in particular,

    say aviation groups.


    "Generally speaking, if you tax the airlines in a negative

    way, you're removing our ability to reinvest in new

    technology," said IATA's Concil.


    But green initiatives such as global emissions trading

    schemes for airlines, under review in Europe, are gaining



    British Airways already participates in emissions trading

    and budget airline EasyJet said it would support any government

    moves towards an aviation emissions trading scheme.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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