With falling prices and rising incomes Australians are flying more than ever before. But climate change is going to change all this. How are we going to deal with our addiction to flying?
Aviation is currently responsible for a small proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, around 2 per cent of Australia’s total emissions.
Because of this, the aviation industry and governments have shown little regard for the impacts of aviation on the atmosphere. In fact, aviation policy at the federal and state level actively promotes the expansion of airports and the aviation industry. The benefits of inbound tourism are praised by all.
However, the Australia Institute has recently made projections of aviation emissions in Australia to 2050 and found that, if left unchecked, continued growth of the industry could derail efforts to tackle global warming.
Between 2005 and 2050, emissions from aviation are expected to rise by more than 250 per cent. This rate of growth is incompatible with the emission reduction targets that are needed to avoid dangerous climate change.
The science suggests that Australia needs to cut its emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Yet if the aviation industry continues under business-as-usual conditions, it could consume more than Australia’s entire emissions allowance in 2050.
Even if Australia adopts a lower target of 60 per cent reductions by 2050, as the Labor Party has proposed, aviation could still gobble up more than half Australia’s emissions allowance by the middle of the century.
These projections point to one conclusion: if nothing is done to curb aviation emissions, we won’t be able to meet the targets that are necessary to deal with global warming.
In many other areas, like electricity generation and land-based transport, technology can offer solutions. For example, we can generate electricity from wind and solar and drive electric cars. The same cannot be said for aviation.
There is no available technology that can significantly reduce aviation emissions. Basically, planes need to burn kerosene to stay in the air. If a technological breakthrough does occur, it will take decades to implement because of the need to replace the existing aircraft fleets and supporting infrastructure.
Dealing with aviation emissions therefore means cutting back on the amount we fly. To ensure this occurs, the government should immediately introduce a $30 greenhouse charge on flights: a small amount that would need to be ramped up quickly.
Beyond this, more comprehensive measures must be put in place to reduce aviation demand, promote innovation and encourage the substitution of air travel with low-emission alternatives.
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