Sixty percent of those polled by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on May 19, 2021 said they would support a ban on short-haul domestic flights if there was an alternative rail that takes two and a half hours or less (23% said that they were neutral, while only 6 percent said they were opposed).
The survey referred to a ban approved by the French National Assembly in April, which will end – once passed in the Senate – around 12% of French domestic flights. The rule, in many ways, is part of a larger European trend.
In Austria last year, the government attached emission reduction conditions to its Austrian Airlines post-Covid bailout. In Spain, the government published a report in May recommending a possible ban on short-haul flights. And in Germany, the EU’s top climate official has endorsed green co-leader Annalena Baerbock’s call for tax and price changes to deter theft. “Short-haul flights should no longer exist in the longer term,” said the candidate for the Greens to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor.
While the British public may look like their European counterparts – with 62% of the latter supporting an EU-wide ban on short-haul flights, according to a European Investment Bank survey – the British government appears operate in a different stratosphere. absolutely.
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More than half a million flights between London and Manchester were made each year before the pandemic. Yet despite the existence of a two-hour rail alternative (and knowledge that emissions from these flights are six times higher than those from rail), the Treasury is still in consultation on a plan to encourage air travel. by reducing taxes on domestic flights.
“I want to lower tariffs on domestic flights so that we can support connectivity across the country,” Johnson said in March.
In this context, more skeptical green thinkers point out that even a French-style ban would be insufficient to achieve the emission reductions demanded by the net zero targets. Only five of France’s 108 domestic air routes would be impacted by the new law, and connecting flights are exempt. More broadly, flights of less than 500 km represent only a small proportion of the total EU emissions from aviation (only 4% in 2019).
So what must happen next for such bans to be real solutions rather than public relations gestures?
Further development of the high-speed train would likely make stricter bans more acceptable to travelers (e.g. a ban on routes where equivalent train journeys take up to four hours, as was originally proposed by the French citizens’ convention on the climate). A built-in ticketing for land and air travel would also help, ensuring that those who combine long-haul flight with train travel would not be penalized if they missed their transfer.
In the meantime, however, a UK government ban – even of the shortest flights – would be a potent political symbol. The pandemic may have reduced airline emissions across Europe by 57% in 2020, but making lasting change is much more difficult. To achieve a sustainable level of air transport, governments will need to support the good instincts of their citizens.
[see also: How ambitious is Joe Biden’s pledge to cut US emissions by 50 per cent?]