It went away for a while during the turmoil of Covid lockdown, but Luton’s airport expansion plans are back and going strong. When I ask about the environmental impact, I know exactly what answer I’ll get: details of all the things they’re doing to make ground operations low carbon. The planes? Not their problem.
It’s a local expression of a global problem – nobody wants to take responsibility for the planes themselves. The emissions often occur over international territory, so they don’t get counted in anyone’s national carbon accounting. Aviation has been left out of international climate agreements, and so countries follow suit and give the industry a pass from national targets too.
Instead, it all falls to the industry itself to clean up its act on a more or less voluntary basis. In practice, it often seems that everybody is waiting for everybody else. We don’t fly planes, say the airports. It’s the airlines that need to deliver low carbon aviation. We don’t make fuel, say the airlines – ask the oil companies, who say they’re just responding to demand.
As the baton gets passed back and forth, targets go unmet and little progress is made, as Possible prove in their latest report. They’ve looked at twenty years of aviation industry targets and promises on sustainable aviation. They found that aviation didn’t meet a single one of its industry-wide targets for sustainable fuels or CO2 per passenger. Self regulation has failed, and the past 20 years suggest that we cannot believe the industry when it says it can reduce emissions in future.
Possible argue that the only route to reducing emissions is to reduce the number of flights, and that this can be done most fairly through a frequent flyer levy.
Have a read of their report, with a summary video below.