£40 Green charge looms for flights after airlines 'fail over carbon footprints'
PASSENGERS should pay a "green tax" on airfares to combat the damage to the environment caused by increased flying, an influential Westminster committee said last night.
Tim Yeo, who chairs the Commons environmental audit committee, said airlines should be forced to levy a charge of up to 40 for every flight to offset carbon emissions from aircraft.
Mr Yeo was speaking as the committee attacked the airline industry's "generally unsatisfactory attitude" to schemes to pay to offset the output of planes.
In a report published today, the committee described British Airways' carbon offset scheme as "risible", pointing out it had compensated for the equivalent of just four return flights to New York on a Boeing 777 a year. Virgin Atlantic offers its passengers no option to carbon offset.
Carbon offset schemes were first devised after scientists became convinced that global warming was caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. The gas, which is one of the by-products of the exhaust from airline engines, is a major contributor to global warming.
Carbon offsetting allows companies and individuals to carry on producing from transport and the production of fuel and consumer goods. The environmental effects of these emissions are alleviated by the polluter funding schemes such as planting trees which absorb the gases.
Mr Yeo said his committee had found the offset schemes were inadequate in most airlines. He said that, to combat the growing levels of emissions, Britain needed a combination of forcing the airlines to take offset schemes more seriously and encouraging people to take trains instead of short-haul flights.
The committee took evidence from BA, Sir Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic and from the transatlantic all-business class carrier Silverjet.
The report said the three airlines "were still not disposed to consider wholehearted co-operation with the government over offsetting" because of the unexpected increase by the government of the airport departure air passenger duty (APD).
The committee said since BA's offsetting scheme was launched in 2005, the company had encouraged the purchase of only 1,600 tonnes of offsets on average each year - approximately the emissions from "four return flights to New York on a [Boeing] 777". The report went on: "This is risible."
It said the company clearly recognised this and told MPs it would improve the prominence of offsetting on its website from the beginning of May. But by the time they wrote the report, this change had not been made.
The MPs said Virgin Atlantic offered no offsets of its own to its customers, nor did it point them towards an offset provider or allow them to calculate the emissions for their flights. But the committee congratulated Silverjet, which charges passengers automatically for carbon offset.
Mr Yeo said the committee's findings had convinced him the government should force airlines to include the levy in ticket prices, giving passengers the option to opt out.
He said: "The government has not made up its mind. It wants a code of practice on offset, but that does not deal specifically with this point."
He said the levy on domestic flights within the UK would be "probably between 10 and 20 a flight" and the figure for longer flights would be up to 40.
He added: "The cost of the offset would be identified on the ticket so that passengers knew what they were paying and why. It would be up to the airlines whether they decided to pass it on directly to the passengers or absorbed the costs themselves."
Asked about the effect on domestic flights, Mr Yeo said: "In my view, the era of cheap flights will come to an end within the next decade. There is no alternative to long-haul flights, but within the UK, the government should be investing more in the rail system and people should be using the trains more."
Last night, BA was reluctant to be drawn into a direct conflict with the committee.
A source close to BA said: "We do not believe that there is a need for a compulsory levy and we do not think that this is the way that the government wants to go either. But we will wait to see where the debate goes." Responding officially to the report, a BA spokesman said that the company was the first airline to launch a carbon offsetting scheme for customers.
He added: "However, we recognise that customer response has not been as strong as we would have hoped. We are upgrading the way in which the offset scheme will work and hope that these improvements will go live in the near future."
The spokesman said: "Our share of APD revenue for the government is now 400 million a year. With this money, the government could offset our entire emissions four times over."
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic declined to comment on Mr Yeo's call. She said: "We are committed to bringing in a more meaningful offset scheme, which goes beyond just planting trees, later this year."
The 66-page report says that offsetting plays only a small part in the overall battle against emissions. But it concludes that:
• offsets have a role to play in cutting emissions and raising awareness of climate change;
• encouraging offsets must not inhibit increased efforts to cut emissions;
• the government should compel the most carbon-intensive businesses to offer offset services;
greater transparency was needed in the offset market and using robust schemes to preserve forests should be encouraged.
Your handy guide to saving Earth and mankind
CARBON offset schemes were first devised after scientists became convinced global warming was caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
The gas, which is one of the by-products of the exhaust from airline engines, is a major contributor to global warming.
Carbon offsetting allows companies and individuals to carry on producing carbon dioxide from transport and the production of fuel and consumer goods.
The environmental effects of these emissions are alleviated by the polluter funding schemes such as planting trees, often in developing countries, which absorb the gases.
There are a number of steps to carbon offset:
• Measure your carbon footprint on-line at http:// www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.html
• Buy "carbon offset" credits from emission-reduction projects. These projects have been set up either to prevent carbon emissions or have already removed an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide elsewhere in the world.
• Plant trees: forests cool down the atmosphere by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and "breathing out" oxygen. But environmentalists say many schemes involve planting on a native forest, which has been felled so the area can be replanted to generate "carbon money".
In replanting, carbon trapped in the soil can also be disturbed and released into the atmosphere.
Critics say it would be better to donate money directly to environmental charities than boost the burgeoning offsetting industry.
• Buy energy-efficient goods: consumers are encouraged to purchase green household items like lightbulbs and electrical equipment such as washing machines and cookers.
• Invest in renewable technologies: using carbon offsets to pay for solar power, windfarms and other schemes can help reduce reliance on carbon-emitting power stations. Providing small-scale, local electricity schemes also means less infrastructure is needed to connect people to the grid.
• Choose green companies: Barclaycard research found 66 per cent of people feel guilty about their impact on the planet.
In response, the firm launched a credit card called Breathe, with 50 per cent of profits going into carbon-reduction projects.
Oil giant BP claims its "target neutral" scheme will enable drivers to become carbon-neutral by offsetting car exhaust fumes. Drivers can make contributions via the company's website, according to how much fuel their car uses.
BP says the average car's annual four tonnes of harmful emissions can be cancelled out with a 20 investment in projects across the developing world.
High street retailer Marks & Spencer recently announced plans to become carbon-neutral within five years. The 100-point eco-plan, Plan A - the firm says there is no plan B to save the environment - will impact on every aspect of the firm's operations including manufacturing to product labelling, and waste management.
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