Ban on domestic flights with fast rail routes could halve aviation emissions
UK emissions from domestic aviation could be cut in half if flights for journeys with viable train routes of under four-and-a-half hours were banned, a report has found.
According to the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) think tank, almost a third of journeys are as fast or faster by train as they are by aeroplane, with almost two-thirds taking less than 30 minutes extra by train.
A similar policy was implemented in France in April which saw the government banning short-haul flights where a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists.
Domestic aviation was responsible for emitting 2.7 megatonnes of CO2 and CO2 equivalents in 2019.
However, almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of CO2 emissions from UK domestic flights in 2019 were between cities linked by the rail network, and are potentially replaceable by rail travel.
Some inter-city travel across England, Wales and Scotland is actually faster by train. For example, the report found that the Newcastle-London and Manchester-London routes have faster city centre to city centre travel by train than by plane.
The think tank calculated that a ban on routes that could be travelled by rail in 4.5 hours or less would result in a 53 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from domestic flights within Great Britain and a 33 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from all of UK domestic aviation.
Travelling by aeroplane is seven times more harmful in terms of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions than travelling by train.
The IF argued that the negative environmental effects of domestic aviation are not reflected in air fares, and that successive governments have failed to adequately tax air fuel and passengers according to the 'polluter pays' principle.
Tax reforms on aviation could also raise money for government investment in green technology and affordable travel, it added.
The report said that levying fuel duty on aviation kerosene and replacing Air Passenger Duty with VAT would have seen the Treasury receive up to £478m more in 2019. It also urged the government to end taxpayer subsidies for domestic aviation, do more to encourage passengers to travel by train, and to increase the capacity on high-demand rail routes.
Angus Hanton, IF co-founder, said: “We are all aware of the risks posed by climate change, and reducing domestic flights is one way in which we can significantly reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“Banning domestic flights with a viable alternative by train would be a faster route to our net-zero targets and a small but important contribution to protecting future generations from the effects of climate change.”
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath and author of the report’s foreword, added: “The public understand that flying harms the environment but they need policy support to help encourage them out of planes and onto trains. If the French can ban domestic flights with a rail equivalent so too can the United Kingdom.”
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