Aviation is a rogue industry on a runway to nowhere
In the debate over building new runways in the UK, we are getting a lot of new answers - to the wrong questions. A huge lobbying effort has successfully changed the argument from whether we need more tarmac for more flights tohow many new runways we need and where should they be laid.
The turbo-charge to the lobbying comes from the prospect of short-term economic growth, sought at any cost by the government. In contrast, the issue of the heavy and fast growing impact of aviation emissions on climate change has faded like a vapour trail in the hurricane force PR campaign.
The fundamental problem is that aviation is a rogue industry, darting across international borders to escape climate justice. While paying lip service to environmental concerns, its masters use the complexity of attempting to curb the carbon emissions of a global business to avoid any curbs at all.
An attempt to bring emissions from flights through Europe under the EU's emissions trading scheme was foiled by the US and China, while the UK declined in December to bring aviation emissions into the country's legally binding carbon budgets.
With aviation an outlaw, it's impossible to say exactly what number of flights would be compatible with the UK's pledge to cut 80% of the greenhouse gases driving global warming by 2050. The harder other industries are pushed to cut carbon, the more headroom there would be for aviation.
But there is plenty of flak available to down the high-flying claims of the aviation industry, such as arguing that its emissions are a tiny part of total emissions. Aviation made up 6% of UK emissions in 2011 but will make up at least 25% of the total in 2050. What happens with aviation will have a huge influence on whether the UK keeps its climate promises, particularly because it will rely on fossils fuels for decades to come.
Another claim is that new capacity is desperately needed to avert economic catastrophe. Yet, as George Monbiot has pointed out, business flights to and from the UK have fallen by 25% since 2000 and make up just 12% of flights. Furthermore, London is already already miles ahead of any competitors: it is thebusiest city in the world for flights and has at least double the number of flights to business destinations than any competitor.