If Airlines & Passengers Can't Afford To Pay For Their Emissions, We Can't Afford To Fly At All

airplane in flight photo

photo: Yuichi Kosio/Creative Commons

The European Union's long-coming plan to include foreign-based airlines in its carbon trading scheme is scheduled to begin in January 2012, which would make all airlines flying to and from Europe to paying for their carbon emissions. It should come as only a small surprise that airlines from the US to China are angry. A court case brought about by the US has just started, which is what brings this again into the spotlight.The New York Times and AP both have current accounts of the US complaints, as we have covered here on TreeHugger. Reuters has the recent Chinese complaints about the scheme.

Despite all the talk of potential violations of international law, what all this comes down to is money. The China Air Transport Association estimates that it will cost Chinese airlines $123 million in the first year and triple that by 2020. Globally, the International Air Transport Association says it will cost $3 billion to implement.

It's a painfully familiar refrain that rises whenever government attempts to regulate an industry and one which nearly always is baseless fear mongering.

Both Airlines & Passengers Can Afford Emissions Offsets
At the customer level, the EU says a roundtrip ticket from Brussels to New York will cost just a few euro more if the customer absorbs to full cost of the offset.

Certainly buying at individual carbon offset for that route is slightly under $20. Current prices flying to JFK to Brussels, purchased now for departure in the autumn, are about $800 roundtrip. The cost of offsetting the carbon emissions of the flight per passenger are a mere 2.5% of the ticket price.

That's less than the surcharge you're now nickel-and-dimed by many airlines for checking a bag. It's about how much a meal costs at any of the in-airport restaurants in Brussels and a bit more than eating at JFK.

In other words (to use the oft-quoted maxim about travel insurance), if you can't afford the cost of paying for the carbon emissions of the flight, you can't afford the flight.

Considering airlines are charging surcharges for luggage, food, and what seems like every other integral part of flying these days, they should suck it up and pass on the cost of carbon offsets to customers too.

And customers need to suck it up too. In terms of global greenhouse emissions, aviation is only about 3%. But on a personal level if you fly it's a significant portion of your emissions.

Short of not flying at all (and make no mistake I'm not suggesting that; more travel is on balance a very good thing) both airlines and passengers need to pay for the full environmental impact of the activity and do everything possible to reduce it.

More on Aviation & Climate Change
What the Heck is Radiative Forcing & Why Should My Aviation Carbon Offset Include It?
Global Aviation Industry Aims to Cap Emissions in 2020 + Strengthen Energy Efficiency Target

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