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scientists and engineers condemn Tony Blair on air travel

This followed Blair’s comments that he would be reluctant to give up holidays abroad, and that he believed that making personal sacrifices was impractical.

John Ling, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for engineering or science to solve the problem – climate change and pollution are not something the Government or industry can wash their hands of. It is engineering that will find the long term solution to these issues but Government and industry need to be doing a lot more in the interim and need to work closer together with engineers to crack this.

“The IMechE polled over 4,000 engineers and results today show 85% do NOT think the Government is doing enough.

“The pressure is really on the airlines at the moment and they will do what they can to save fuel. There is a powerful business and moral incentive for the industry to reduce fuel consumption, and we support any initiative that can do that. We must be careful, however, that towing of planes and the like is not just a PR gimmick and that Richard Branson, or whoever, is taking into account the true environmental cost of this alternative. A longer term solution would be to design future aircraft that will be more economical on the ground. Planes were after all designed to travel best in the air and not on the ground.”

Dr Sally Cairns, Senior Research Fellow, at the Transport Research Laboratory and University College London, said:

“We looked at a range of forecasts of aviation emissions. The Department for Transport’s own figures suggest that even using the most optimistic forecasts from industry about what they will be able to achieve through technology, air traffic management and operational efficiency improvements – emissions from aviation will increase – to more than double year 2000 levels by 2030. By 2050, the Department’s figures suggest aviation could account for more than a quarter of the total carbon dioxide emissions that the UK is aiming for (17.4 MtC of 65MtC). Other commentators estimate that emissions from aviation will grow significantly more than this. Therefore, unless other sectors are able to cut their emissions far more than currently planned (and current targets are already seen as extremely challenging), it will not be possible for the UK to meet its emissions targets.

“This is why we argued that policies to address the growth in aviation are essential to stabilising the UK’s impact on the climate. Moreover, it should be possible to do this. A number of studies, by respected economists, suggest that at least 40% of the growth in air travel in recent years has been caused by the real reduction in the cost of air fares. In part, this is due to Government decisions about the taxes and charges placed on the industry. In addition, there could be potential economic benefits for the UK from restraining the growth in air travel. Currently, we have a significant tourism deficit, where, for every pound an overseas visitor spends here, a UK resident spends more than two pounds abroad – and this deficit is increasing over time. Hence, restraining the growth in air travel is essential to meet objectives to stabilise climate change, is likely to be more feasible than many aviation advocates argue, and could even have economic benefits.”

Dr Robert Noland, Reader in Transport and Environmental Policy, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London, said:

“New aviation technologies to improve energy efficiency should be developed and may have a role to play in the future, however, these technologies will not help reduce the impact of air travel on climate change today. Even if these technologies are being developed now it could be 20 years before we see any impact in the aircraft fleet.

“Fuel for international air travel is currently not taxed and equalising taxes between modes of travel could encourage the use of less polluting surface modes of travel. Aviation has other climate-related effects beyond just the carbon emissions associated with burning fuel. Contrails or vapour trails are one and can persist for hours and behave in the same way as high altitude clouds, trapping warmth in the atmosphere and exacerbating global warming. Some estimates have suggested that the radiative forcing effect from cirrus clouds formed from contrails has up to 10 times the impact on climate change as aviation CO2 emissions. Contrails and the climate effect associated with them could be eliminated tomorrow if there was the political will to make it happen. This can be done by planning flights to avoid those regions of the atmosphere that are more likely to form contrails, similar to avoiding a large thunderstorm.”

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