The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) at Oxford University has produced a definitive report setting out why reduction in aviation operations is essential for the UK to achieve its zero emission ambition and to stand any chance of making a fair contribution to mitigating climate change.
‘CREDS’ response focuses on the importance of travel to overall tourism emissions, the lack of technological solutions and strategies to address the growth in air travel by UK residents. We draw on evidence from research within CREDS and further afield, and propose action to encourage more sustainable travel and tourism, such as choosing sustainable travel options and encouraging domestic tourism.‘
Demand reduction in aviation is essential for the UK to achieve its zero emission ambition and to stand any chance of making a fair contribution to mitigating climate change. It needs to start with curbing growth: limiting airport expansion, deploying taxes and instituting behavioural nudges.
Why does it matter?
– International travel adds a huge amount of individual GHG emission and at the moment there are no technical solutions and no serious zero-carbon ways of flying, no matter what airlines and airport investors want to make us believe
– Demand is increasing, with substantial growth in international leisure travel. Around 90% of UK flights are for leisure, mostly to Spain. The growth has been from higher-income groups in the age ranges of 16-34 and 65+
– A net-zero carbon target implies that all members of society need to reduce their carbon emissions, especially the carbon emitting elite (around 1% of the UK population is responsible for 20% of flights)
– Limiting airport expansion and limiting demand would reduce airport movements that contribute little to the UK economy
– Reducing aviation demand is likely to be more pain-free than is often assumed.
The facts about airport expansion
A Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation survey from 18.09.2019 among 2,018 people suggests that 67% felt we should limit air travel in order to address climate change. Yet nearly every airport in the UK is seeking expansion.
A recent letter to DfT and DHCLG from 22.20.2019 states the following: “Many UK airports including Belfast, Bristol, East Midlands, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, London City, Luton, Manston, Newcastle and Stanstead are seeking or have announced their intention to seek planning approval to increase their capacity and /or their operating caps. In aggregate it has been estimated that proposals announced by UK airports would increase the country’s airport capacity by nearly 200 million passengers per annum. The would be an increase of over 70% compared to 2017’
The facts about carbon emissions
Average UK resident emissions excluding international aviation, shipping and ‘consumption’ emissions stand at around 7 tonnes per capita (Figure 1). To achieve the net-zero target this needs to be reduced to zero by 2050.
If we add international aviation, this figure increases to 8 tonnes per capita. The climate warming impact (which includes CO2, CO2 impacts as well as non- CO2 and non- CO2 impacts such as radiative forcing which increase the amount of energy Earth receives from sunlight than it radiates to space) of a return flight to Sydney is greater than the effect of the average emissions of one UK resident for their entire year.
The facts about flights
2016 terminal passengers:
– 12% domestic trips
– 9% changing planes
– 79% international trips (of these 83% are for leisure and 68% are by UK residents)
Passenger numbers have increased by over 60% between 2001 and 2016 and by 22% between 2011 and 2016. 87% of this growth is for leisure and 7% is for business and growth comes from international travel. 90% of international air trips by UK residents are for leisure.
The facts about (in)justice
Flying is a highly unequal activity. In any given year, according to the Department for Transport (2019), about 1% of UK residents take 20% of all flights, 70% of all flights are attributable to only 15% of the population while about 50% of UK residents do not fly. This is strongly affected by income. More than 35% of households in the top income decile took 3 or more flights in 2016, compared to less than 5% in the bottom income decline (Murray et al. 2018). Most growth is coming from high income groups in the age ranges of 16-34 and 65+. Family holidays is not where the growth is.
Compared to other countries, UK residents already make a disproportionate number of international air-based trips, and are responsible for a disproportionate share of global GHG emissions. In terms of the emissions generated by residents on international tourist trips, the UK is probably 3rd in the world after the US and Canada. The UK is the 2nd highest ‘exporter’ of tourism emissions (when comparing emissions generated by UK residents travelling overseas, compared with emissions generated by visitors to the UK.
The facts about reducing aviation demand
Fares have come down dramatically. Although there is an air passenger duty, flights do not pay VAT nor do they pay fuel duty. Demand growth, however, is not an inevitable process. It has occurred because of dramatic reductions in prices and unfair pricing vis-à-vis other modes of transport. Curbing airport expansion is most likely to avoid growth in passenger changing planes (57%), followed by avoided growth in leisure trips by UK residents (31%), followed by avoided growth in leisure trips by foreign residents (10%). Neither passengers changing planes nor leisure trips by UK residents contribute much to the UK economy.
Some general remarks about flying and the net-zero carbon target
In terms the hierarchy of needs for a fulfilling life, physiological needs (universal needs for human survival) include food, water, health, sleep and shelter (Maslow 1943). Airport expansion and the high carbon jobs it creates by providing more pollution opportunities for the polluting elite does not provide any of these needs. In fact, its contribution to climate change increases food and water insecurity through increasing extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts, it increases planetary and human health stress and provides no shelter (IPCC 2018). Focusing on reducing carbon emission in the provision of food, water, health, sleep and shelter, on the other hand, provides low-carbon jobs. Flying and airport expansion provide none of these.
Flying drives high demand among a pollution elite which is using up the carbon budget which demarcates the ‘safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockstroem et al. 2009).
Cairns, S. (2019). Environmental Audit Committee: Sustainable Tourism Inquiry. https://www.creds.ac.uk/wp-content/pdfs/CREDS-submission-EAC-Sustainable-Tourism-inquiry.pdf
Department for Transport (2019). National Travel Survey 2002-2017. 7th Edition. UK Data Service. SN:5340.
IPCC (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
Lenzen et al. (2018). The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change, 8: 522-528.
Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4): 370-396.
Murray, L., Beaver, J. and Collett-White, R. (2019). Runway for the few. https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/media.afreeride.org/documents/RunwayForTheFew_WEB.pdf
Rockstroem et al. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(2009): 472-475.
This report summary is reproduced with permission. SBAEx would like to thank Dr Sally Cairns (University of Leeds) and Dr Colin Nolden (Univeristy of Bristol. See https://www.creds.ac.uk/why-supporting-tourism-doesnt-mean-supporting-airport-expansion/