There’s no easy way to cut aviation emissions, except by flying less

Paul Callister, Deirdre Kent and Robert McLachlan

We congratulate Stuff for its series on climate change. But one area has received relatively little attention – that of flying.

Though aviation is emission-profligate and the fastest growing source of emissions, it presents particular challenges. You can replace your petrol-driven car with a modern electric car. But flying is more complex, as there is no easy way of reducing its heavy dependence on fossil fuels in the foreseeable future.

For New Zealand, it is especially challenging. It has been estimated that, at any point in time, more than one million New Zealand residents are living or travelling overseas.

More than a quarter of New Zealanders were born overseas, many retaining close links to friends and family in their country of origin. Keeping in touch with whānau is a strong driver of the wish to fly. In addition, within New Zealand we don’t have fast rail linking our major centres, and low-cost long-distance bus travel is currently of poor quality. Our rapidly expanding tourism industry also depends on people often travelling long distances to get here.

The problem is that flying is an important contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. This impact is forecast to increase in absolute terms and as a proportion of New Zealand’s total emissions.

The increase comes about through the rapidly growing popularity of long-distance travel, as well as a massive growth in airfreight driven in part by online retailing. (The Auckland airport company is currently planning for 40m passengers a year to pass through its facility by 2040.) The increase in flight emissions counteracts the reduction in greenhouse emissions that other sectors of the economy are working towards, including farming.

So what is the size of the challenge? New Zealand’s international aviation emissions, unregulated by the Paris Agreement, were 3.4m tonnes of CO₂ equivalent in 2016, up 152 per cent from 1990. There is insufficient land to produce enough biofuel and it’s a major challenge to go electric, even for short flights.

What can we do to change the trajectory?

Individuals can choose to fly less. Inspired by Sweden’s #flygfritt 2019challenge to be flight-free, Britain has launched its #flightfree2019 campaign. There is now a Fly-less Kiwis Facebook group.

Businesses, government agencies and universities can reduce their dependence on flying through video conferencing, virtual workshops and by examining the necessity of each trip. They can stop the practice of giving employees airpoints for personal use, a tax-free incentive to fly.

We can remove wider incentives including airpoints, flybuys, finance company loans for international travel, and subsidies for regional airlines.

We can improve low-carbon forms of travel within New Zealand, for example with high-speed trains between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, and improved long-distance bus services.

As Wellington lawyer Tom Bennion states in Chris Watson’s book Beyond Flying, “Air travel is the ultimate low-hanging fruit in terms of a significant step that individuals can take immediately to prevent catastrophic climate change.”

This article appeared first on Stuff.co.nz on 12 December 2018. See original article.

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