Additional carbon taxes may need to be introduced to constrain air travel demand, says UK's climate advisor
David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, appearing before the UK Parliamentary Transport Committee in May 2009
Mon 15 Feb 2010 – David Kennedy, CEO of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has said biofuels and fuel efficiency improvements could allow a 60 percent increase in UK passengers up to 2050 but demand would most likely reach around 115 percent without further measures such as a carbon tax and restrictions on airport expansion and slots. The Government’s climate advisor forecasted biofuels would only contribute 10 percent towards an anticipated overall 35 percent industry fuel intensity improvement by 2050 and said biofuels should not be regarded as a ‘silver bullet’. UK policy is for aviation carbon emissions to be no more in 2050 than they were in 2005 – around 37 million tonnes.
Speaking at the Business Travel and Meetings Show in London, Kennedy said improvement in fleet fuel efficiency to 2050 would likely run at an average 0.8% per year, which when combined with the 10% biofuel penetration would allow a 55% increase in flights and 60% increase in passengers. This would be compatible with government targets, he said, but if the growth in air travel was left unchecked the increase could rise by 200% by 2050. However, even with careful planning of runway capacity and the additional factor of a carbon price – estimated at £200 ($310) per tonne in 2050 – included in plane tickets, demand could still rise by 115%.
Therefore, he said, additional measures such as a carbon tax on top of the carbon price, limits to further airport expansion and restrictions on slots would be necessary to close the gap.
“The only way is to increase the price of air travel,” he stated. “Aviation will become significantly more expensive, thus making it attractive for companies to look at alternatives.”
Kennedy pointed out that the maximum combined runway capacity of UK airports was 5.57 million air traffic movements (ATMs) but only 2.16 million ATMs were actually utilized, representing just 39% of capacity availability.
He said there was a significant potential for shifting air travel to high-speed train on routes under 800km, although flights under 1,000km accounted for only one-third of UK aviation emissions. He foresaw an overall reduction of 10% in demand for air travel to Europe in 2050 as passengers switched to high-speed rail, with rail market shares of up to 60% on routes from London to Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt.
Kennedy quoted industry forecasts that suggested videoconferencing could also substitute for up to 35% of business travel, citing companies such as telecom giants BT and Vodafone already having cut business flights by 20-30% in recent years. A modal shift to high-speed train and the use of videoconferencing could potentially reduce emissions by up to 7 million tonnes a year by 2050, he concluded.
Last December, the CCC published a wide-ranging report ‘Meeting the UK aviation target – options for reducing emissions to 2050’ (see story).