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Health secretary roasted for defending domestic flights

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Health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that people need not cut down on flights despite high carbon emissions, prompting criticism from environmental activists.

“I think connectivity around the country is incredibly important,” he said while speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live. “Take the flights to the Scilly Isles for instance - it takes a long time to get to the Scilly Isles if you’re not in an aeroplane.”

“Being able to connect to different parts of the country is very important, at the same time flying has already decarbonised and can decarbonise more.”

While aviation is only responsible for around two per cent of anthropogenic carbon emissions this is expected to rise as the number of passengers is expected to double by 2037. The sector is also more difficult to decarbonise than ground-based transport or electricity networks.

Hancock said he would be prepared to fly from London to Aberdeen if necessary and that technology should be used to reduce carbon emissions - pointing to electric planes which he said “are a potential for the not too distant future”.

In July the Government announced an £80m investment in key technologies for the next generation of electric vehicles which included electric planes.

EasyJet have also been developing electric planes in collaboration with US-based company Wright Electric for short-haul flights. However, the limited density of current battery technologies in comparison to fossil fuels makes long-haul flights a harder nut to crack when it comes to electric planes.

The Government is set to review air passenger duty (APD) - an environmental tax on flying - on domestic routes, among other measures, in an effort to help struggling airline Flybe. Campaigners warned Boris Johnson that any APD review that leads to cheaper air travel would be a “complete scandal” and “rip up” the Prime Minister’s pledge to show leadership on the climate crisis.

In response to Hancock’s comments, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Either Matt Hancock thinks airplanes run on fairy dust, or he does know they’re a major source of planet-heating emissions but simply doesn’t care. Whichever it is, his comments fly in the face of the Conservative manifesto commitment to tackling the climate emergency.”

“He’s right about one thing, though - regional connectivity is crucial, and that’s why ministers should invest a lot more in clean transport infrastructure while making sure millions of people are not clobbered by rail fare hikes every year.”

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