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British report suggests aviation behaviour change to help climate emergency

British report suggests aviation behaviour change to help climate emergency

Seems to be the week for the environment. I have already posted about moves towards the removal of single-use plastic toiletry containers, and now its behaviour change around flying.

You may have seen some who-ha reports in the news and on a number of plane-nerd blogs, including my favourite that catastrophise the effect of frequent flyers on climate change suggest that the report wants to abolish frequent flyer schemes, not to mention bringing out all the climate deniers. Well, they are not quite right.

a document with blue text
The report cover

Climate deniers are not welcome here

This blog accepts the science of anthropomorphic climate change and concurs with seeing the current status of this change as a ‘climate emergency’. To that end, if you make a comment, and it does not accept this, it will not be published. (Take that, climate deniers!)

Incentives for behaviour change

First up, the United Kingdom, unlike the great USA and my Australia, actually has a policy on climate change.

The report, titled ‘Behaviour change, public engagement and Net Zero (Imperial College London)’ was commissioned by the Committee of Climate Change (CCC) – a body that provides independent advice to the United Kingdom government on building a low carbon economy and preparing for climate change. The committee was set up by the UK Government under the Climate Change Act 2008 as a statutory body.

So the report is actually about behaviour change that might contribute to the lowering of emissions.

‘This independently published report, sets out a range of policy interventions that could encourage changes across surface transport, aviation, heating and diet change. ‘

Oultine, Behaviour change, public engegement and Net Zero

It’s about transport – not just aviation

. . . so the report provides recommendations on a number of avenues for potential behaviour change in a series of areas. The one that concerns us is Chapter 2: Recommendations for behaviour change in surface transport and aviation.

After running through some stats on ‘Active Transport’ (bicycles), it looks at Rail and Bus; electric vehicles (by far the biggest section) and we then come on to a section titled ‘Aviation demand’:

an airplane flying over water


Lets set the scene:

‘Under the CCC’s Further Ambition Net Zero scenario, allowing for a 60% increase in aviation demand from 2005 levels (25% from present levels), this sector will by 2050 account for around 30% of the remaining positive UK emissions.’

They mean the remaining emissions after the other areas they have covered.

Aircraft emissions are how much?

If averaged over all households, UK aviation now makes up around 12% of a household’s carbon footprint. However, emissions from flying vary enormously between households. While the average household’s annual carbon footprint is approximately 8.1 tonnes (CCC, 2016a) return flights from London to Los Angeles for two people have a carbon footprint of approximately 5.7 tonnes CO2e for Economy Class and over 9 tonnes CO2e for Premium Economy. The emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly equivalent to that of heating a typical home in the EU for a whole year (European Commission, 2019).

So, that is a shit-load of emissions for one journey and something that does bear thinking about, however unpleasant the thought.

Flying is a uniquely high-impact activity and is the quickest and cheapest way for a consumer to increase their carbon footprint.

What we gonna do?

So, what do they suggest to try and mitigate this? Well, they don’t recommend the abolition of frequent flyer schemes, or that we should abandon flying. What they do suggest is a fairly standard capitalist/free-market reaction. That is by providing a price signal, by imposing a levy:

An air miles levy is a promising option if policy objectives are to: limit rising demand for flying in a way which does not make it inaccessible to lower-income households; encourage shift in demand from flying to trains and from long-haul to short-haul; and generate funds for lower-impact aviation and improving high-speed rail networks.

So, they are suggesting imposing a levy as a disincentive for flying, but not one that makes flying for poor people impossible. They want to encourage more use of trains and generate some funding to explore more carbon-efficient ways of flying and using rail.

Seems like a good idea to me.

And if public policy doesn’t address these issues, then it risks losing the support of ordinary people:

Given the scope for frequent flyers to have carbon footprints many times that of the average UK household, a lack of policy in this area is likely to be increasingly seen as inconsistent and unjust and risks damaging public engagement with climate action.

a room with two beds and a tv

Trying to find solutions

The committee is trying to find behaviour change suggestions that don’t penalise the average leisure flyer, while they do affect that small percentage of flyers that do most of the flying.

The only Frequent Flyer schemes they want to ban are those that ‘incentivise excessive flying’ and the model ban they use is from Norway, which ran between 2002 and 2013.

This ban was actually introduced because there was only one airline in Norway at the time, (SAS) and it was felt that the loyalty scheme was a disincentive to competition or the entry into the market of any new airline.

Oslo sought to increase competition between airlines in the Nordic country, fearing that frequent flier schemes would ensure that business travellers would continue to choose then-dominant SAS over upstart Norwegian Air Shuttle.


After a legal challenge by a declining SAS to the ban, frequent flyer schemes have re-emerged in Norway

What the report actually recommends

To sum it all up, this is what the report suggests might be a way to proceed to encourage behaviour change that would lower emissions for flyers. Banning schemes that ‘incentivise excessive flying’ is only one of three recommendations – quoting straight from the report:

  • Introduce an Air Miles Levy which escalates as a function of air miles travelled by the individual traveller and factors-in larger emissions for First Class tickets. This would provide strong price signals against excessive flying by 15% of the UK population responsible for 70% of flights without raising prices for other travellers as an aviation fuel tax would. It would also encourage shifting from long-haul to short-haul leisure destinations while using 3 or 4-year accounting periods would allow travellers greater flexibility for an occasional long-haul flight without incurring the levy.
  • Introduce a ban on air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivise excessive flying (as was enforced in Norway 2002-13).
  • Encourage more responsible flying by mandating that all marketing of flights show emissions information expressed in terms that are meaningful to consumers (e.g., as (a) proportion of an average household’s annual emissions now and under Net Zero).
clouds in the sky

2PAXfly Takeout

If you accept some personal responsibility in the reversal of climate change, then you need to look at all areas of your life, including your airline travel.

What am I going to do? Well, I have only ever taken one status/points run in my life, and I will endeavour not to do so again. If I’m tempted next time, I will make the trip serve at least one other purpose, even if that is just to review a hotel or airline flight. I won’t be getting on an aircraft just because I enjoy it.

I will look at how best to offset my flying with carbon credits. I’m also going to look at other aspects of my lifestyle and consider the environmental effects of my choices, whether it be eating less meat, or catching more public transport, and fewer Ubers.

The environment is personal.

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