Aviation and sustainable development

SEI’s 2004 SEI report Aviation and Sustainability showed that managing the growth in demand for aviation and reducing absolute levels of flying had been excluded from policy debate - clearly incompatible with the policy commitment to sustainable development.

The demand for air travel is forecasted to double over the next 20 years. This growth is clearly unsustainable for a variety of reasons. Notably, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) will rise over this period which is in conflict with international agreements aimed at reducing them.

Other impacts include noise and health effects and local air pollution impacts. In addition, the aviation industry also receives massive financial support in the form of tax breaks and infrastructure development. This is at odds with the principles of sustainable development, for example, the polluter pays principle and the requirement to improve public health.

The report looked at demand management as a well-established part of the overall approach to dealing with the growth of car and lorry traffic and dealing with energy consumption (e.g. energy conservation and least cost planning). The authors set out how demand management in aviation could embrace the three main “pillars” of:

- the internalisation of external costs to make “prices tell the ecological truth”;
- the transfer of passengers from air trips to rail trips for those journeys where this us appropriate (45% of all flights in the EU are less than 500km in length);
- electronic substitution and the use of video-conferencing and related technologies as a substitute for physical travel.

The report made 9 recommendations all of which are aimed at recognising the sustainable development agenda and ensuring that aviation plays its full proportionate part in delivering sustainability.

Download report here

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