Written by Eric Lombard While the aviation sector and governments promise a new era of “sustainable” aviation fuels (SAF), we know that it will divert much-needed resources away from other sectors and take decades to happen, if at all. Yet there is an efficient way to...
Degrowth of Aviation
Reducing Air Travel in a Just Way
Flying is the fastest way to heat the planet. How can a reduction of aviation and its climate impact be achieved in a just way? The report, published in December 2019, fills an important gap:
While it has been clear to the climate movement and civil society that “green growth” of aviation is and will be an illusion, clear steps leading to effectively reducing the negative environmental and social impacts of aviation have been missing so far.
In July 2019, during the conference “Degrowth of Aviation” in Barcelona, more than 150 experts and civil society participants discussed different measures. The outcomes of the conference and further discussions led to the now published report. It is aimed to spark more campaigns and policies to tackle aviation’s climate impact in a just way.
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Reducing Emissions from Aviation = Reducing Aviation
Aviation is the mode of transport with the biggest climate impact by far. Yet, air travel is growing faster than any other sector. In response to the growing critique, the aviation industry has announced its intention to become greener in the future. But numerous reasons make it impossible for aviation, to really grow in a carbon-neutral way. Degrowth is the only option, a concept that is embedded in a needed social-ecological transformation of society and economy.
Flying is virtually tax free in comparison to other modes of transport. Introducing fiscal measures can counter the massive indirect subsidies of the aviation industry. This is a necessary step, but not enough to reduce aviation and to target the few wealthy people responsible for the biggest share of flights and climate impact.
The frequent flyer levy (FFL) or the air miles levy (AML) attempt to address the social injustice of flying, by making each flight or each air mile travelled progressively more expensive. The revenues obtained from such levies can be used to make climate-friendly modes of mobility accessible for all, especially in the Global South, including a “just transition” fund.
Setting Limits on Flights
The most effective way to reduce aviation is to limit the amount of flights. This can be done by banning short-haul routes where alternative transport could easily be used or built, or by limiting the amount of departures per day on specific routes. Setting absolute limits and bans is fair, as nobody can buy themselves out of it. Bans are beginning to be publicly discussed and could become more popular if their justice dimension is pointed out more.
A red line needs to be put on airport expansion, setting moratoria on new infrastructure projects. Along with a shift of short-haul flights to trains, regional airports (which are usually highly subsidised) will become obsolete and close.
Boosting the use of alternatives to flying requires investment in the network of long-distance train and bus routes. This does not require high-speed train lines, which are also problematic, but larger numbers of more comfortable and affordable night trains and buses. Also, ecologically modernised ferries, ships, integrated and user-friendly international booking systems for multi-modal travel, improved transfers, as well as online conference systems are part of the future picture.
Institutional Change of Travel Policies
While most of the above measures need implementation on a state level, institutions like schools, universities, municipalities, NGOs and businesses can already contribute to the reduction of flights (of their employees and partners), by changing their travel policies.
There are plenty of other measures that could lead to a reduction of air travel, including making explicit the overall climate impact of aviation (in accounting and communication); mandating that all marketing of flights show the climate impact; behaviour change campaigns; divestment from the aviation sector; banning frequent flyer programmes; and more.
Bringing It All Together – A Summary
A multitude of measures have been discussed in this report. How do they fit together? What is necessary to bring them forward? Which actors are key in promoting them? Choosing a combination of measures must take into account cross-cutting concerns like social justice. The systemic change needed in order to avoid climate crisis is complicated but achievable step by step, when building a strong movement.