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Row about greenhouse gases from aircraft

9th January, 2007

Environment Minister, Ian Pearson, said Ryanair was the “irresponsible face of capitalism” and that the attitude of US airlines to greenhouse gas emissions was “a disgrace”. Tony Blair then stepped in to help the airlines.

In a broad attack on airlines’ efforts to tackle carbon emissions, the Environment Minister, Ian Pearson, said Ryanair was the “irresponsible face of capitalism“.Ian Pearson also said the attitude of US airlines to emissions was “a disgrace”. He also attacked British Airways, saying it was “only just playing ball” on environmental regulations, and Lufthansa, the German airline.In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Pearson said: “When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism.

“Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, made one of his typically robust and childish comments saying Mr Pearson was “silly” and “hadn’t a clue what he is talking about“. The Times (24th Jan) also reported that Mr O’Leary had dismissed the Stern Report as “a lot of lies put about by the eco-nuts on the back of a report put out by an idiot economist“.

But more seriously, Tony Blair came straight back (8 Jan 07) with ‘carry on flying’ comments. It seems obvious that he was trying to counter Pearson’s comments and support the aviation industry’s policy of not addressing climate change.

He said “I personally think these things are a bit impractical actually to expect people to do that [take holidays closer to home] .. unrealistic targets .. I think that what we need to do is to look at how you make air travel more energy efficient, how you develop the new fuels that will allow us to burn less energy and emit less. How – for example – in the new frames for the aircraft, they are far more energy efficient. .. Britain is 2% of the world’s emissions. We shut down all of Britain’s emissions tomorrow – the growth in China will make up the difference within two years.”

This is a microcosm of the cynical and fallacious arguments used by the lobbyists against action on climate change.

It is generally recognised that technical developments in aircraft will only reduce emissions by about 1%. The government itself says that 1.2% pa could be achieved by ‘forcing’ but not by ‘business as usual’. With growth at around 5% pa, it is blatantly obvious that technology cannot resolve the problem – something must be done about growth.

Whether Britain only produces 2% of the world’s emissions and whether China produces more is beside the point. Everyone can point at someone else who produces a lot of carbon. The answer is, of course, that all people, all countries and all sectors of the economy have a responsibility to act.

Tony Blair’s excuses for the UK not acting on aviation can only confirm what many already suspect – he is not serious about climate change.