Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
If the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has its way, the travel revolution that created the new class of "EasyJetters" across <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Europe will screech to a halt. The Centre has said that such travel must be curtailed if the UK is to have any hope of meeting its Kyoto treaty obligations. On top of this, the European Commission is considering environmental regulations that could add £55 to the cost of an airline ticket. These developments will be hailed by ailing national carriers and condemned by the successful budget airlines. That's because British Airways can absorb such a price increase, while the increase would destroy EasyJet's competitive advantage of low costs. Cheap holidays will be a thing of the past. The beaches of Bognor may be as crowded as those of Benidorm.<?xml:namespace prefix = u2 /> <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Fearsome seaside landladies and scruffy environmental activists alike will cheer. Those who are now used to cheap European travel will be less pleased. Yet everyone not named Doris should ask what this is all for. The new tax is intended to create "market incentives" for airlines to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by aircraft. Such gases are thought to have contributed to the planetary warming trend over the last 30 years.
Yet people the world over are realising that there is a strong link between the use of carbon-based energy and economic growth. In turn, many are realising that, whatever concerns climate change might bring, it does no good to inflict economic costs without creating offsetting economic benefits. Most, like Tony Blair admitted recently in New York, have now twigged that even if man's release of greenhouse gases is changing the climate in harmful ways, strategies like the Kyoto Protocol won't address these problems. Even if every signatory nation met its Kyoto targets, the warming trend would not stop; generous estimates would see a fraction of a degree difference between a business as usual and a Kyoto world a century hence.
Kyoto will create major economic problems for any country that seeks to honor its draconian constraints. And since Kyoto is too limited to affect climate change, most honest observers now concede that the whole effort is flawed and we must consider alternative paths. For example, America recently joined with several Asian countries to develop a programme of economic and technological growth -- based on the premise that more resilient economies will be better able to address global warming problems, whatever those may be. In contrast, Europe is embarked on a series of mini-Kyotos, seeking to impose energy restrictions on one sector after another (although its approach to dealings with China looks so like America's that Private Eye could run a "Are they by any chance related?" feature on them).
The first target is the airline industry, even though aircraft contribute a negligible amount to the global budget of anthroprogenic greenhouse gases. Moreover, airlines are one of the most distressed industries of this age. Although some airlines like British Airways are in favor of the scheme, probably for the short-sighted reasons outlined above, Lufthansa and others recognise that to impose additional costs on an already highly stressed industry would be disastrous.
The move seems politically attractive, because governments believe that they will be able to shift costs to foreign travelers. This may be true for many developing countries that have little air travel, but it is certainly not true for the United States or Europe -- for every external flight they took in 2000, Europeans flew three times within the EU. In America, the ratio of domestic to foreign flights is 10:1.
Environmental rules already require airlines to increase energy use. High-angle landing and takeoff patterns require more power and so increase fuel use. Altitude restrictions -- now being considered as a separate climate change prevention measure -- add miles to the journey and increase fuel use. In fact, we should be looking at ways to reduce journey lengths. Today, government regulates the paths that aircraft must take on any given journey, while air-traffic control prohibits pilots from choosing their own route. Allowing 'free flight' would yield greenhouse-gas emissions reduction of up to 17 per cent.
Of course, these environmental rules are supported by environmental groups whose officers jet around the world to conference after conference where they decry man's footprint on the planet. Recently, to combat this impression, groups such as Future Forests have been offering to plant trees to soak up the carbon dioxide emitted during such trips. Last year it charged the bureaucrats who traveled to Buenos Aires for the annual Kyoto Protocol meeting £25.50 to plant three trees to assuage the civil servants' guilt. This seems a mite expensive, as the US Forest Service will plant 10-15 seedlings for a suggested donation of only $10.
Of course, Kyoto was hailed by Jacques Chirac as the "first component of an authentic global governance." The UN has made no bones about its intention to be able to raise taxes. Airline taxes, being international in nature and in support of a key UN treaty, would indeed be an ideal first step for Chirac and his fellow globalist progressives.
So the answer to the cui bono question for this initiative is clear -- environmentalists and globalists, who will see their agendas advanced. The climate won't be affected. And the rest of us will swap delays at Heathrow for traffic jams heading to Britain's admittedly warmer beaches, which will probably lead to more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. In the end, like Kyoto itself, this policy is all economic pain for no environmental gain.