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New report on aviation from World Development Movement

6th November, 2008

A report has  been published by the World Development Movement (WDM): ‘Plane truths: Do the economic arguments for aviation growth really fly?’This report challenges the view that growth of aviation is important for developing countries. It argues that the climate change impacts would have far greater costs than the any benefits.

WDM’ summary is reproduced here; the full report can be downloaded from their web site.

The report, unsurprisingly, has not gone down well in some quarters. Brian Donohoe MP, chairman of the all-party aviation group and who has Glasgow Prestwick in his constituency, was moved to write a rebutall in Parliamentary Monitor.  

Aviation industry’s fossil-fuelled fantasies threaten livelihoods of world’s poor


Today, as UN World Tourism Day focuses on climate change, new research says economic case for airport expansion is unfounded, and international tourism is more of a risk than a benefit for developing nations.

A new report from nef (the new economics foundation) and the World Development Movement released today, Saturday 27 September, UN World Tourism Day, reveals that increased air travel and tourism leaves UK taxpayers out of pocket, and benefits multinational tour operators and hotel chains, rather than poor people. And, as the fastest-rising source of emissions in the UK, aviation is a significant contributor to climate change that threatens the survival of some of the world’s poorest communities least responsible for causing the problem, but living on its front line.

The new nef/WDM report, Plane Truths exposes the ‘fossil-fuelled fantasies’ behind airline bosses and government ministers’ claims that continued growth of the aviation industry strengthens the UK economy, does not undermine the emissions reductions needed to avert catastrophic climate change and can play a positive role in the fight against global poverty.

Fossil-fuelled fantasy 1: Airlines claim that cheap air fares ‘democratise’ foreign travel. The reality is that highest earners still travel most frequently.
People on low incomes who make up 32 per cent of the UK population, account for less than 8 per cent of all passengers on low-cost flights from the UK, while 40 per cent of all budget flights are taken by the wealthiest people in the UK.

Fossil-fuelled fantasy 2: Airlines claim that tourism is developing countries boost economic development. The reality is the benefits from UK tourism to communities in far-flung destinations are minimal because:

the vast majority of British tourists travel to short haul destinations like Spain or France, or industrialised countries such as the United States, while only nine per cent of UK tourists go to the developing world.
When tourists do visit the developing world, up to 75 pence in every £1 spent goes straight into the pockets of multinational hotel chains and tour operators, not to the local economy.
Evidence from Kenya, Thailand and the Dominican Republic suggests that if the growth in UK aviation was halted, the impact of lost revenue would represent less than one per cent of GDP.
And, for the Maldives, where the contribution of tourism to the economy has been more significant, the Islands very survival is under threat from rising sea-levels
Fossil-fuelled fantasy 3: Airlines and the government claim that the aviation industry strengthens the UK economy. The reality is that, in 2007 the aviation industry left UK taxpayers 10.4 billion in the red.

The World Development Movement has calculated £10.4 billion was lost to the Exchequer in 2007 as the result of tax exemptions for the airline industry. This is more than twice the £5 billion needed to ensure that every home in Britain is properly insulated, helping to combat both climate change and fuel poverty – going far beyond recent government announcements.
“As people world-wide feel the impact of the credit crunch, the UK government is sleep-walking into a climate-crunch, riding high on the fossil-fuel fantasies of the aviation industry. It is time for the government to wake up. Time is short. There could be less than one hundred months to prevent catastrophic, runaway climate change. Conventional economists claim that a rising tide lifts all boats, but the plain truth is that long before the minimal benefits of economic growth, particularly from air-based tourism bring any improvement to the lives of people living in some of the world’s poorest countries, they will be sunk by the floodwaters of runaway climate change.” says Dr Victoria Johnson, nef climate change researcher and the report’s co-author.

Benedict Southworth, director of the World Development Movement said: “Poor people in the developing world will be hit first and worst by climate change and international tourism does little, if anything, to alleviate poverty – so the myths peddled by the government and the aviation industry are simply a fig leaf to justify aviation expansion. Exposing and opposing these myths is essential if we are to help to prevent hundreds of millions of people around the world from losing their lives and livelihoods.”

And, as Plane Truths reveals, the majority of tourism takes place within, rather than between regions. This means that investment in better regional transport infrastructure will play a critical role in reducing emissions while maintaining the many cultural, and local economic benefits that tourism can deliver.

The report finds that policy measures to date, such as Air Passenger Duty (APD) in the UK and the European Union (EU)’s emissions trading scheme, will have little impact on the strong and environmentally destructive growth trend in aviation. The report argues that government must also show leadership, by taking action to reduce emissions from aviation, and include them in the climate change bill; halting planned airport expansion; and ensuring that proposed taxes on flights is set at a high enough rate to reduce demand for short-haul flights:

The Climate Change Bill currently passing through parliament must be amended to include emissions from shipping and aircraft. The emissions reduction target should also be increased to 80-90 per cent below 1990 levels, in line with the most recent scientific evidence.

When Airline Passenger Duty is replaced by a flight tax next year, it must be set at a proportionately higher for short-haul flights than long-haul, since aircraft burn most fuel during taxi, take-off and landing, and alternative methods of transport are often available. The funds generated from this tax should be earmarked for investment in better rail connections, and to funds to help people in developing countries adapt to the degree of climate change that is already happening.