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Blair refuses to consider tax on aviation to address climate change

8th February, 2006

Tony Blair says it is unrealistic to think the tax system can be used to reduce air travel in the UK. See item from BBC news.

The prime minister said it would take a “fairly hefty whack” for people to cut back on flights in the UK and abroad.He told the Commons liaison committee that it would be hard to sell, and said he would not be keen on such a move.

If you really wanted to impede air travel or to cut it back significantly through some taxation mechanism, it would have to be a fairly hefty whack.

Instead, he said, the best way to tackle climate change was to invest in more environmentally friendly aircraft and to invest in other new technology.

[AEF note. It is widely recognised that technology cannot address the problem. Technology is expected to reduce emissions on a per passenger km basis only by about 1% pa, or 2% at the very most. With aviation growing at around 5%, it is clear that some form of ‘demand management’ is needed.]

Investment needed

It had been put to Mr Blair that the rise in aircraft emissions were threatening the overall plans to cut back on greenhouse gases.

Mr Blair told the MPs that the world would be in “serious trouble” unless there was a new agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

He said it was vital to come up with a framework for when the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012.

Mr Blair said he thought that with a “significant uplift” in investment in new and alternative environmentally-friendly technologies the emissions savings could be found fairly quickly.

He said emissions targets would have to form a part of a future agreement on climate change.

It was understandable that the US was very wary of having targets imposed on it, and instead wanted to concentrate on the use of clean technology – on which it spends more than any other country – he said.

However, there were “real signs of change” in the US on the issue, he said.

But on air travel, the prime minister conceded: “It is unrealistic to think that you will get some restriction on air travel at an international level.”

“The best way to go is to recognise that is a reality and see how you can develop the technology that is able to reduce the harmful emissions.”

‘Not good enough’

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said he was pleased Mr Blair was calling for an international framework on climate change, backed by clear targets.

But he added: “He should not, however, put too much faith in empty speeches from the American President to galvanise global agreement.

“If the prime minister wants to see international action then he must lead by cutting UK emissions.”

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats environment spokesman, accused Mr Blair of “throwing in the towel” over climate change.

“Emissions from aviation represent the greatest challenge in tackling climate change – for the prime minister to wash his hands in this way is simply unbelievable,” he said.

“If aviation continues to grow as projected, the increase in emissions from this sector will cancel out all planned cuts from all other sectors.”